Pollen has been largely ignored by atmospheric scientists who study aerosols – particles suspended in the air that scatter light and heat and play a role in cloud formation. The grains were thought to be too large to be important in the climate system, too large to form clouds or interact with radiation. However, Michigan engineers weren’t convinced. After conducting a lab study in conjunction with Texas A&M they were able to see that when pollen breaks down it can indeed produce particles that are small enough to seed cloud growth. Wind-carried capsules of genetic material might have an effect on the planet’s climate, and they highlight a new link between plants and the atmosphere.
Allison Steiner is an Associate Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. The main focus of her research group is to understand and quantify complex feedbacks in the atmosphere and Earth system. Specifically, they focus on the intersection of the atmosphere and biosphere, with the ultimate goal of accurately assessing regional climate forcings and feedbacks from biogenic (or natural) sources.