Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


The Latest Tech for Air Monitoring? Lowly Lichens

The plant reflects the level of contaminants in its surroundings.

By Rachael Moeller GormanMarch 1, 2003 6:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Air pollution is a serious problem in many parts of the world, but just how serious is often not clear because it costs a lot of money to get accurate readings.

Fortunately, Larry St. Clair of Brigham Young University in Utah may have found a quicker, cheaper way to monitor air quality: lichens.

Because lichens mop up pollutants like sponges, St. Clair decided to see if they did so in a manner that reliably reflects the level of contaminants in their surroundings. His team harvested lichens from sites in four states—Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado—that are plagued by copper pollution. The researchers then assayed concentrations of copper in the lichens and compared the results with those acquired using mechanical monitoring devices.

As pollution detectors, the lichens were as accurate as the best equipment available. St. Clair says the lowly lichen could revolutionize biomonitoring. He envisions transplanting the organisms to keep watch over highly polluted areas all over the world: "There's no reason we can't extend the predictability of the system to some of the other pretty nasty things that are being put into the air."

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 50%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In