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Suggested Citation:"7 Final Thoughts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23573.
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CHAPTER SEVEN

Final Thoughts

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.

Suggested Citation:"7 Final Thoughts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23573.
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Suggested Citation:"7 Final Thoughts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23573.
×
Page 151
Suggested Citation:"7 Final Thoughts." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23573.
×
Page 152
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Our world is changing at an accelerating rate. The global human population has grown from 6.1 billion to 7.1 billion in the last 15 years and is projected to reach 11.2 billion by the end of the century. The distribution of humans across the globe has also shifted, with more than 50 percent of the global population now living in urban areas, compared to 29 percent in 1950. Along with these trends, increasing energy demands, expanding industrial activities, and intensification of agricultural activities worldwide have in turn led to changes in emissions that have altered the composition of the atmosphere.

These changes have led to major challenges for society, including deleterious impacts on climate, human and ecosystem health. Climate change is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing society today. Air pollution is a major threat to human health, as one out of eight deaths globally is caused by air pollution. And, future food production and global food security are vulnerable to both global change and air pollution. Atmospheric chemistry research is a key part of understanding and responding to these challenges.

The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow summarizes the rationale and need for supporting a comprehensive U.S. research program in atmospheric chemistry; comments on the broad trends in laboratory, field, satellite, and modeling studies of atmospheric chemistry; determines the priority areas of research for advancing the basic science of atmospheric chemistry; and identifies the highest priority needs for improvements in the research infrastructure to address those priority research topics. This report describes the scientific advances over the past decade in six core areas of atmospheric chemistry: emissions, chemical transformation, oxidants, atmospheric dynamics and circulation, aerosol particles and clouds, and biogeochemical cycles and deposition. This material was developed for the NSF’s Atmospheric Chemistry Program; however, the findings will be of interest to other agencies and programs that support atmospheric chemistry research.

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