Page 108

Box II.2.1 Environmentally Important Atmospheric Species

These species are scientifically interesting and important to human health and welfare because of their radiative (e.g., climate changing) and/or chemical properties. They include the following:


• Stratospheric ozone


• Greenhouse gases


• Photochemical oxidants


• Atmospheric aerosols


• Toxics and nutrients

Documenting the changing concentrations and distribution of these species, elucidating the processes that control their concentrations, and assessing their impacts on important environmental and ecological parameters will define the principal challenges for atmospheric chemistry in the coming decades.

The scientific questions facing atmospheric chemistry entering the twenty-first century are intellectually profound but are also of vital social and economic importance. They relate to atmospheric constituents that are fundamentally important to our environment: stratospheric ozone, greenhouse gases, ozone and photochemical oxidants in the lower atmosphere, atmospheric aerosols or particulate matter, and toxics and nutrients (see Box II.2.1). It is perhaps a measure of the strides made in recent decades, that the issues of atmospheric chemistry are familiar to the general public, policy makers, and scientists alike. Continued progress in the twenty-first century will require an ambitious, but judicious, commitment of financial, technological, and human resources to document the changing composition of the atmosphere and elucidate the causes and potential consequences of these changes.

Major Scientific Questions and Challenge

The principal focus for atmospheric chemistry research entering the twenty-first century will be the "Environmentally Important Atmospheric Species"— species that, by virtue of their radiative and/or chemical properties, affect climate, key ecosystems, and living organisms (including humans). From an intellectual point of view, these species are interesting because they influence the life support system of our planet. From a societal point of view, they are also of central importance because they directly impact human health and welfare.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement