- Scientists are discovering how the sticky air lingering above deep fryers could fuel more clouds.
- Over a city like London, fatty acid molecules make up about 10% of the fine particulates in the air.
- That could drive some of the cloud formation over the city, prompting cooler temperatures.
Thanksgiving revelers who deep fried their turkeys may have had a measurable effect on more than just their scales.
According to a team of European researchers, the use of deep fryers could be making cities cloudier.
Research released Thanksgiving day in the journal Nature Communications details how fatty acids that get released into the air when food is fried coat the surface of particles in the atmosphere, making them better ingredients for cloud cover.
Triglycerides and fatty acids released into the atmosphere from frying form complex, 3-D crystalline molecular structures. The sticky presence of those fatty acids makes the particles they coat last longer and travel farther, absorbing more moisture in the air along the way. That fuels cloud formation because tiny water droplets in the air can only become clouds if they connect with aerosols that form the inner core of cloud droplets.
The effect of fatty vapors in the air can be seen as similar to soap molecules in a sink. As fatty acids in soap help clean dishes, they also make dish water cloudier and absorb more moisture from the air. Deep-fryer fat particles in the atmosphere could function the same way.
And the longer such particles stick around, the better their chances of connecting with water vapour and making clouds. The researchers estimate that circulating molecules (like dust or salt) that get coated in deep-fryer oil could extend their stay in the atmosphere by somewhere between two and 24 hours.
In a city of fried-food eaters, those fatty emissions add up. In London, for example, nearly 10% of daily fine particulate matter in the air comes from fatty acids associated with cooking.
“The molecules given off by deep fat frying is likely to have more of an effect on clouds than previously thought,” lead researcher Adam Squires,Associate Professor of Biophysics and Materials at the University of Bath,told Business Insider via Twitter.
But Squires said more research is needed to know how much fatty acids really affect urban cloud cover, since the team’s research was done in a laboratory.
Furthermore, although low-level cloud cover can lead to cooler temperatures on the ground, Squires cautioned that his finding should not be seen as a reason to eat our way out of climate change.
“I’m no climate scientist (ahem) but ‘help with global warming’ definitely a stretch from what we said” Squires wrote on Twitter, pointing out that the fuel required to operate deep fryers has an impact on global emissions.
So don’t start eating more fried food thinking that it will curb global warming. Doughnuts and fries may be delicious, but they’re no geo-engineering formula.