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Ants and the atmosphere: no picnic.

Ants and the atmosphere: No picnic

When atmospheric scientist Tom Graedel heard that hiscolleagues could not account for much of the formic acid found in the atmosphere above the Amazon, he thought the answer might lie underfoot.

Graedel has been studying whether ants could be a significantsource of the formic acid found globally in atmospheric gas and precipitation. Scientists are concerned about formic acid because it provides most of the acidity for the acid rain that falls on remote areas.

From his investigation, Graedel estimates that formicine antsmay account for as much as half of the atmospheric formic acid, placing them on a par with industrial contributors to atmospheric formic acid.

Formicine ants are one of the most numerous classes of ants,accounting for more than 10 percent of the world ant population, says Graedel, a researcher at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of the ant's body weight is devoted to a reserve of formic acid, which serves for both defense and communication.

Working with zoologists from Cornell University, Graedelestimated the flux into the atmosphere of ant-produced formic acid by multiplying the number of formicine ants in the world by the amount of formic acid that each ant carries. He then divided this number by a time scale for how much formic acid each ant releases during its lifetime.

With this formula, Graedel estimates that ants release about2 10(13) grams of formic acid per year. Chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere produce roughly the same amount of formic acid. These reactions rely on precursors, such as formaldehyde and certain hydrocarbons, which are mainly emissions from human sources.
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Title Annotation:Formicine ants as a source of formic acid in the atmosphere
Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Date:May 30, 1987
Words:279
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