The field of atmospheric chemistry was born out of the need to respond to a series of societal challenges that were threatening human health and welfare—air pollution in urban centers, widely dispersed acid deposition, and a thinning stratospheric ozone layer. While atmospheric chemistry research has its foundations in the traditional disciplines of chemistry, physics, biology, geology, oceanography, engineering, and meteorology, as the field has grown it has become a robust area of basic science in and of itself.
As described in this report, atmospheric chemistry research is expanding into new frontiers. Atmospheric chemistry research today covers a wide swath of topics that integrate understanding the fundamental chemistry of the atmosphere, including emissions and transformations of gases and particles and how that chemistry affects and interacts with climate and weather, ecosystems, and people. The future challenges for atmospheric chemistry involve nothing less than the health of the planet’s climate, the health of ecosystems, and the health of humans everywhere. As the Committee looks to the future, we see a deliberate shift in the field of atmospheric chemistry. This shift is to a full embrace of this dual role—on the one hand to observe, learn, and discover for the sake of fundamentally understanding the Earth system and the underlying chemical, physical, and biological processes, and on the other hand to advance research to address those challenges that directly affect society. Atmospheric chemistry research alone cannot solve these major problems, but it is also true that they cannot be solved without it.
Moving in both of these directions will take effort, investment, and a willingness to adapt by the National Science Foundation, other agencies, and the atmospheric chemistry community as a whole. But after conversations with many members of our community during the course of this study, the Committee is convinced that we are ready for these challenges. The future of atmospheric chemistry research relies on the community to continue advancing our scientific knowledge and applying these findings to improve the world around us.
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