To zero in on air pollution, just follow the magnetic tree leaves.
That’s the conclusion of an odd new study, which determined that the microscopic metallic particles spewed out of tailpipes and smokestacks actually magnetize the nearby leaves they settle on and adhere to. The study found that the leaves from trees along heavily traveled bus routes were up to 10 times more magnetic than leaves from little traveled roads. The pollution can be detected easily and on the cheap with magnets, according to the study’s authors. Even “a strong magnet wouldn’t [attract] the leaf, but it definitely gives you a detectable signal” [National Geographic News], says researcher Bernie Housen.
The authors admit that finding more pollution along bus routes isn’t exactly shocking, but their efforts may help local communities pinpoint and clean up places that have an abundance of air pollution, especially at places where people spend time outdoors, like on bike trails and walking paths. The research team says that using magnets would be an advance in pollution detection because conventional tests for measuring the amounts of these tiny particles are often expensive and time-consuming [National Geographic News]. The study was presented at the Geological Society of America conference in Portland, Oregon.
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Image: flickr / d_vdm