Expert Report

The Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Research: Remembering Yesterday, Understanding Today, Anticipating Tomorrow (2016)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The field of atmospheric chemistry came into its own as researchers worked to discover the causes of such problems as urban smog, acid rain, and the stratospheric ozone hole and identify actions that helped to solve each problem. Nonetheless, significant challenges remain as a growing global population intensifies energy use and industrial and agricultural activities. Climate change is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing society today. Air pollution remains a major threat to human health, causing one out of eight deaths globally. In turn, global change and air pollution pose a threat to future food production and global food security, among many other impacts. Atmospheric chemistry research alone will not solve these challenges, but these challenges will not be solved without atmospheric chemistry research.

This report, which was carried out at the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF), identifies priorities and strategic steps forward for atmospheric chemistry research for the next decade. A major goal is to develop improved predictive capability that foresees environmental changes and societal impacts to inform policy and other decisions. Using input from the scientific community, the report identifies priority areas that advance the dual role of atmospheric chemistry: first to advance fundamental understanding of the Earth system; and second to advance research needed to address the societal challenges of climate change, human health, and ecosystem health.

The report also makes several recommendations about the infrastructure needed to support those priority research areas. Recommendations include developing new tools and long-term research sites, improving the use and archiving of data, encouraging interdisciplinary work, and building international cooperation. The report also recommends making the National Center for Atmospheric Research a more vibrant and complementary partner for the atmospheric chemistry community.