EnviroAtlas Benefit Category: Clean Air

Ecosystems produce clean air

  • The natural production and maintenance of clean air is important for overall human health and well-being.EnviroAtlas Eco-wheel on Clean Air: Shows the resources that provide this service, the benefits to society, and drivers of change.This eco-wheel image shows the natural resources providing clean air, the benefits, and drivers of change.
  • The earth around us naturally provides clean air that is produced from a series of complex interactions between the land and atmosphere. Forests, for example, absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
  • To help produce clean air, natural resources such as wetlands, trees, and soil, filter many pollutants from our air. Some of these pollutants include carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
  • The ability of an ecosystemHelpecosystemAll living things and nonliving things in an area, as well as the interactions between them. to filter pollutants from the air varies by region, topography, season/climate, ecosystem type, ecosystem fragmentation or connectivity, and the species composition of that system.
  • Local weather and topography affect how air pollutants may disperse, and certain types of trees, such as conifers and deciduous broadleaf species, are particularly efficient at pollutant removal.

Air quality stressors and drivers of change

 Health impacts and benefits

  • Even at low concentrations, air pollutants such as ozone and PM can trigger a variety of health problems such as asthma attacks, coughing, and lung irritation, as well as increase susceptibility to longer term illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases2.
  • The ability of natural resources to remove air pollutants from the atmosphere reduces their negative effects and improves public health.
  • Airborne fine particles (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, impacting the quality of outdoor experiences in U.S. national parks and wilderness areas. The natural removal of these particles from the atmosphere can improve visibility and increase our ability to enjoy these outdoor spaces.
  • Cleaner air means fewer pollutants that can redeposit onto land and water bodies, resulting in improved water quality, and lower concentrations of GHGs that trap heat and reduce climate stability.
  • For more information on the health benefits of clean air, explore the Clean Air portion of the Eco-Health Relationship Browser.


  1. EPA. National Emission Inventory. 2008. Emission Source Sectors. Accessed January 2013. 
  2. NOAA. Air Quality. Accessed January 2013.