Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Meaning of Petrichor

Dear Gardeners,

            Had to share this with you.  Received it from Amy Grandpre.  Just came in from mowing my lawn and just beat the rain this evening.  I need not detect the “petichor” as the rain began, but that is probably because I was imbibing the sweet smell of “grassichor” which is the sweet smell of newly cut grass.  It is always reassuring to know that our scientists are delving in to the mysteries of our universe!  Personally, I don’t care what the smell of rain is – as long as we get it.

Hi Master Gardeners…..just thought you might find this article very interesting….I did!   Amy G. 

Subject: the smell of rain 

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɨkɔər/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek, petra, meaning ‘stone’, + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

The term was coined in 1964 by two researchers, Isabel Joy Bear (Australian) and Roderick G. Thomas (British), for an article in the journal Nature.[1][2] In the article, the authors describe how the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, a metabolic by-product of certain Actinobacteria, which is emitted by wet soil, producing the distinctive scent; ozone may also be present if there is lightning.[3] In a follow-up paper, Bear and Thomas (1965) showed that the oil retards seed germination and early plant growth.[4] This would indicate that the plants exude the oil in order to safeguard the seeds from germination under duress.

In 2015, MIT scientists used high-speed cameras to record how the scent moves into the air.[5] The tests involved approximately 600 experiments on 28 different surfaces, including engineered materials and soil samples.[6] When a raindrop hits a porous surface, small bubbles form that float to the surface and release aerosols.[5] Such aerosols carry the scent as well as bacteria and viruses from the soil.[5] Raindrops that move at a slower rate tend to produce more aerosols; this serves as an explanation for why the petrichor is more common after light rains.[5]

Some scientists believe that humans appreciate the rain scent because ancestors may have relied on rainy weather for survival.