Research highlight


Why and how masks work: Cheng et al., Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Science 2021.

How masks work in virus-limited and virus-rich regimes (Science 2021)

Airborne transmission by droplets and aerosols is important for the spread of viruses. Face masks are a well-established preventive measure, but their effectiveness for mitigating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission is still under debate. We show that variations in mask efficacy can be explained by different regimes of virus abundance and are related to population-average infection probability and reproduction number. For SARS-CoV-2, the viral load of infectious individuals can vary by orders of magnitude. We find that most environments and contacts are under conditions of low virus abundance (virus-limited), where surgical masks are effective at preventing virus spread. More-advanced masks and other protective equipment are required in potentially virus-rich indoor environments, including medical centers and hospitals. Masks are particularly effective in combination with other preventive measures like ventilation and distancing.

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Biomass burning aerosol-PBL-monsoon interactions modify low clouds: Ding et al., Aerosol-boundary-layer-monsoon interactions amplify semi-direct effect of biomass smoke on low cloud formation in Southeast AsiaNature Communications 2021.

Synergetic feedback of smoke aerosol–cloud–boundary-layer interaction coupling with the monsoon in subtropical southeastern Asia (Nature Commun. 2021).

Low clouds play a key role in the Earth-atmosphere energy balance and influence agricultural production and solar-power generation. Smoke aloft has been found to enhance marine stratocumulus through aerosol-cloud interactions, but its role in regions with strong human activities and complex monsoon circulation remains unclear. Here we show that biomass burning aerosols aloft strongly increase the low cloud coverage over both land and ocean in subtropical southeastern Asia. The degree of this enhancement and its spatial extent are comparable to that in the Southeast Atlantic, even though the total biomass burning emissions in Southeast Asia are only one-fifth of those in Southern Africa. We find that a synergetic effect of aerosol-cloud-boundary layer interaction with the monsoon is the main reason for the strong semi-direct effect and enhanced low cloud formation in southeastern Asia.

Aerosol pH buffered by ammonia: Zheng et al., Multiphase buffer theory explains contrasts in atmospheric aerosol acidityScience 2020.

Global distribution of continental surface regions buffered by NH4+/NH3 (Science 2020).

Aerosol acidity largely regulates the chemistry of atmospheric particles, and resolving the drivers of aerosol pH is key to understanding their environmental effects. We find that an individual buffering agent can adopt different buffer pH values in aerosols and that aerosol pH levels in populated continental regions are widely buffered by the conjugate acid-base pair NH4+/NH3 (ammonium/ammonia). We propose a multiphase buffer theory to explain these large shifts of buffer pH, and we show that aerosol water content and mass concentration play a more important role in determining aerosol pH in ammonia-buffered regions than variations in particle chemical composition. Our results imply that aerosol pH and atmospheric multiphase chemistry are strongly affected by the pervasive human influence on ammonia emissions and the nitrogen cycle in the Anthropocene.

MPIC news | Related study - Zheng et al, ACPD 2021  

Importance and necessity of synergy between environmental and energy policymaking: Wang et al., Natural gas shortage during the "coal-to-gas" transition in China have caused a large redistribution of air pollution in winter 2017PNAS 2020.

Regional discrepancies in ambient PM2.5 changes in winter 2017 (PNAS 2020)

Improving air quality is an important driving force for China’s move toward clean energy and the extensive implementation of the “coal-to-gas” policy. Our analysis shows, however, that a shortage of natural gas during the implementation of the action in northern China has led to the transfer of pollution emissions and deterioration of air quality for large areas and populations in southern China during winter 2017. Our finding highlights the importance and necessity of synergy between environmental and energy policymaking to address the grand challenge of an actionable future to achieve the cobenefits of air quality, human health, and climate.

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Passenger aircraft support climate research: Ditas et al., Strong impact of wildfires on the abundance and aging of black carbon in the lowermost stratosphere. PNAS 2018.

Passenger aircraft supports climate research (PNAS 2018)

Unique information about the abundance and evolution of wildfire-emitted black carbon (BC) in the lowermost part of the stratosphere (LMS) was obtained from long-term airborne measurements made in cooperation with Lufthansa through the Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container (CARIBIC) project, part of the In-service Aircraft for a Global Observing System (IAGOS) framework. Our results demonstrate that wildfires can dramatically increase BC mass concentration in the LMS, substantially enhance regional climate forcing, and are a challenge for model simulations. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and spread of wildfires. Thus, recording a present-day baseline with extensive and long-term measurements should help to constrain model estimations of the climate impact of BC and foster our fundamental understanding of future climate change.

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