Plants Serve as Air Quality Detectives

By Joe Murgo

Published 06/04 2014 09:16PM

Updated 06/04 2014 09:21PM

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA

About 90 percent of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere is located way up high in a layer called the stratosphere, where it forms a layer that protects life by absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However, ground-level ozone in the troposphere (lower atmosphere) is harmful to plants and human lung tissue, and is the main component of smog. Just like a recipe, the atmosphere needs all the right ingredients to make ground-level ozone.  When the temperature rises and the sun is shining, heat and sunlight mix with emissions that come from car exhaust, power plants, refineries, gasoline vapors at gas stations and other sources to “cook-up” ground-level ozone. 


To study the health of our atmosphere, NASA uses the help of Aura, a spacecraft with instruments used to measure trace gases, and an Ozone Garden. NASA’s Ozone Garden helps to educate people about ozone in the atmosphere and plant biological response to ozone. It is full of plants that are ozone-sensitive – when exposed to high levels of ozone, the plants show damage on their leaves.


You can monitor ozone in your area by making observations and taking photos of suspected ozone damage on plants. You can also plant your own ozone garden with plants that are ozone-sensitive. For more information on how to submit observations or make your own ozone garden, visit Some ozone sensitive plants native to Pennsylvania include the black-eyed susan, cutleaf coneflower, cardinal flower and flowering dogwood.


Have you spotted any of these plants? Be sure to join the Eyes on Central PA Mission on Project Noah to share your photo observations. Your photo may be featured on this blog or in Chief Meteorologist Joe Murgo’s next on-air broadcast!

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