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Excess Isoprene: A Curse for Air Quality

  • Context (TWC): Due to global warming, plants like oaks and poplars will emit more isoprene, which will worsen the air quality.


  • Isoprene is a colourless, volatile liquid hydrocarbon.
  • It is the most abundant non-methane VOC emitted into the atmosphere.
  • Sources:
    1. Biogenic Sources: Most isoprene is produced by plants and by some algae and bacteria. It is also produced in small amounts by humans and other animals.
    2. Anthropogenic sources: It is also released by activities like the combustion of fossil fuels, production of petroleum products and synthetic rubber, etc.
  • Uses: Isoprene is used in natural and synthetic rubber, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, and fragrances.
  • It is the main component of natural rubber.
  • Isoprene from plants is the second-highest emitted hydrocarbon on Earth, after methane emissions from human activity.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  • VOCs are organic compounds with a high vapour pressure at room temperature.
  • This means that they readily evaporate into the air at room temperature.
  • They are found in paints, solvents, cleaning products, air fresheners, fuels, etc.
  • They can also be emitted from natural sources, such as plants and trees.
  • Concern: They can cause air pollution (by contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog, etc.), which leads to various health and environmental problems.

Benefits of Isoprene

  • Pests and Disease Resistance: Isoprene defends plants against pests and diseases. It can be toxic to some insects and attract beneficial insects that prey on pests.
  • Heat Tolerance: It can protect plants from high heat by safeguarding their photosynthetic systems.
  • Atmospheric chemistry: It helps to remove specific pollutants from the air. It reacts with chemicals in the atmosphere to create secondary organic aerosols, which act as cloud condensation nuclei.

Demerits of Isoprene

  • Ground-level ozone formation: Ground-level ozone forms when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and VOCs. It leads to health problems, crop damage, and reduced visibility.
  • Secondary organic aerosol formation: Isoprene also reacts with other atmospheric chemicals to form secondary organic aerosols, which reduces air quality and visibility.
  • Climate change: Increased isoprene emissions raise tropospheric ozone and methane levels, which are significant greenhouse gases. Thus contributing to global warming.

Global Warming Effect on Isoprene Emissions from Plants

  • Global warming has two implications for isoprene emissions from plants:
    1. Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere slows the rate of isoprene emissions.
    2. Increasing temperatures accelerate the rate of isoprene emissions.
  • However, the temperature effect trumps the carbon dioxide effect.

Excess Isoprene A Curse for Air Quality

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