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Atmospheric modelling of grass pollen rupturing mechanisms for thunderstorm asthma prediction


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Emmerson, KM, Silver, JD, Thatcher, M, Wain, A, Jones, PJ ORCID: 0000-0002-4880-6711, Dowdy, A, Newbigin, EJ, Picking, BW, Choi, J, Eber, E and Bannister, T 2021 , 'Atmospheric modelling of grass pollen rupturing mechanisms for thunderstorm asthma prediction' , PLoS One, vol. 16, no. 4 , pp. 1-21 , doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249488.

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The world's most severe thunderstorm asthma event occurred in Melbourne, Australia on 21 November 2016, coinciding with the peak of the grass pollen season. The aetiological role of thunderstorms in these events is thought to cause pollen to rupture in high humidity conditions, releasing large numbers of sub-pollen particles (SPPs) with sizes very easily inhaled deep into the lungs. The humidity hypothesis was implemented into a three-dimensional atmospheric model and driven by inputs from three meteorological models. However, the mechanism could not explain how the Melbourne event occurred as relative humidity was very low throughout the atmosphere, and most available grass pollen remained within 40 m of the surface. Our tests showed humidity induced rupturing occurred frequently at other times and would likely lead to recurrent false alarms if used in a predictive capacity. We used the model to investigate a range of other possible pollen rupturing mechanisms which could have produced high concentrations of SPPs in the atmosphere during the storm. The mechanisms studied involve mechanical friction from wind gusts, electrical build up and discharge incurred during conditions of low relative humidity, and lightning strikes. Our results suggest that these mechanisms likely operated in tandem with one another, but the lightning method was the only mechanism to generate a pattern in SPPs following the path of the storm. If humidity induced rupturing cannot explain the 2016 Melbourne event, then new targeted laboratory studies of alternative pollen rupture mechanisms would be of considerable value to help constrain the parameterisation of the pollen rupturing process.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Emmerson, KM and Silver, JD and Thatcher, M and Wain, A and Jones, PJ and Dowdy, A and Newbigin, EJ and Picking, BW and Choi, J and Eber, E and Bannister, T
Keywords: thunderstorm asthma, pollen rupturing, allergy, grass pollen
Journal or Publication Title: PLoS One
Publisher: Public Library of Science
ISSN: 1932-6203
DOI / ID Number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249488
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2021 Emmerson et al. This is an openaccess article distributed under the terms of theCreative Commons Attribution License, whichpermits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided the originalauthor and source are credited.

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