The science behind the ‘smell’ of rain

Weather
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSY-TV) — With rain showers across Central New York today you may have experienced what some people call the smell of rain with the moisture in the air.

We have just gone through five days of dry and increasingly warm weather and that set the stage for this ‘scent’ of rain.

There is actually a bit of science behind this.

The odor actually has a name called ‘’petrichor” which comes from combing two Greek words ‘petros’ meaning “stone” and ‘ichor’ which translates to “the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods”.

Image courtesy: earthlymission.com

A couple of scientists coined the phrase back in 1964 in an article published by the magazine Nature.

Humans are very sensitive this odor, and it takes only very small amount of the geosmin bacteria in the air for us to notice the smell.  It is believed this is partly because our ancestors were quite dependent on rainy weather for survival which makes us more attuned to odor.

In the dry soil there is an absorbed oil from plants and on a day like today. A light rainfall hitting the soil releases this oil into the air along with a bacteria called ‘geosmin’ causing an odor similar to concrete. It is not toxic to humans.

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