Ever smelled a storm before it happened? Smelled the rain before it actually rained? A team of researchers took those aromas and deciphered their meaning. It’s true that someone with a sensitive nose can smell the rain before the drops fall down because the atmosphere actually lets out distinctive odors. These scents are even stronger when it rains after a long dry spell. So what does a storm smell like exactly?
According to Scientific American the odors are broken down into 3 common scents.
The first thing you smell is the pungent zing of the ozone (a form of oxygen). “Ozone emanates from fertilizers and pollutants as well as natural sources. An electrical charge—from lightning or a man-made source such as an electrical generator—splits atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen molecules into separate atoms. Some of these recombine into nitric oxide, and this in turn reacts with other atmospheric chemicals, occasionally producing a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms—ozone, or O3. (Most atmospheric oxygen is made up of two atoms—O2.)”, says Tropospheric chemist Louisa Emmons at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. What we smell is the O3 that downdrafts from higher levels before and during a storm.
Falling water also brings other odors to our noses that can come from plants or in the city from asphalt. The name given to this kind of scent is petrichor and it was first described in 1964. “It occurs when airborne molecules from decomposing plant or animal matter become attached to mineral or clay surfaces. During a dry spell, these molecules chemically recombine with other elements on a rock’s surface. Then when the rains came, the redolent combination of fatty acids, alcohols and hydrocarbons is released.”
The aroma of the wet earth is known as geosmin, a metabolic by-product of bacteria or blue-green algae.
These aromas have meaningful messages to the inhabitants of this earth. For freshwater fish petrichor signals them that it’s spawning time. And in the desert, geosmin leads camels to oases. And for the Aboriginal people in Australia‘s Western Desert “the odor is believed to be protective and cleansing, linking present generations to their ancestors.”
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Would you be interested in smelling the rain while listening to soothing rain drops during meditation/relaxation? Please let us know in a comment. Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.