Scientists are examining the fate of fatty acids that are released from cooking into the atmosphere. A recent study suggests that frying food has the potential to change the weather and possibly even counteract global warming.
The experts believe that molecules emitted from cooking oil contribute to the formation of clouds that cool the planet, and their research will provide new insight on how aerosols affect temperatures in the long term.
While it is known that aerosols significantly impact the climate, their composition is not clearly understood. The researchers set out to establish how compounds are arranged within aerosol droplets.
Oleic acids are the primary fatty acids found in cooking oils. Using ultrasonic levitation, the researchers managed to hold individual droplets of brine and oleic acid in place so they could examine them with a laser beam and X-rays.
The research team discovered that these fat molecules assemble into intricate 3D structures within aerosol droplets. These complex structures enable the aerosols to linger in the atmosphere longer.
Dr. Christian Pfrang is a professor of Physical & Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Reading and lead author of the study.
Dr. Pfrang told BBC News, “We found these drops could form these self-assembled phases which means these molecules can stay much longer in the atmosphere. These self-assembled structures are highly viscous so instead of having a water droplet you have something that behaves much more like honey, so processes inside the droplet will slow down.”
Dr. Pfrang explained that the structures are resistant to oxidation which allows them to persist longer, making cloud formation easier.
Dr. Adam Squires from the University of Bath is the co-lead author of the study.
“We know that the complex structures we saw are formed by similar fatty acid molecules like soap in water,” said Dr. Squires.”There, they dramatically affect whether the mixture is cloudy or transparent, solid or liquid, and how much it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere in a lab.”
Dr. Squires added, “The idea that this may also be happening in the air above our heads is exciting, and raises challenges in understanding what these cooking fats are really doing to the world around us.”
The scientists hope this research will lead to further exploration of how fatty acids affect the atmosphere. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer