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Atmosphere keeps itself clean

The atmosphere’s self-cleaning capacity is more stable than some scientists expected.

This conclusion ends the controversy that the self-cleaning capacity of the atmosphere is sensitive to environmental changes.

New analysis published online today in the journal Science shows that global levels of the hydroxyl radical, a critical player in atmospheric chemistry, do not vary much from year to year.

Levels of hydroxyl, which help clear the atmosphere of many hazardous air pollutants and some important greenhouse gases — but not carbon dioxide — dip and rise by only a few percent every year; not by up to 25 percent, as was once estimated.

An international, NOAA-led research team included researchers from Dutch University Wageningen and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The ability of the atmosphere to rid itself of pollutants is more stable than previously thought for many years.

This research will improve understanding of atmospheric chemistry and helps to predict the future composition of the atmosphere.