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What is responsible for this different smell of rain?



  Person walking with umbrella through a rainforest
Kaitha Poo Manam / Wikimedia

Answer: Geosmin

When a dry rain is interrupted by a rain, there is a distinct smell in the air after the storm. This scent, a lush, earthy scent that is reminiscent of the scent of fresh beets picked from the ground, is referred to as Petrichor, a term coined by researchers in the 1

960s to describe the after-rain smell, Petrichor itself is caused by a very specific organic compound: geosmin. Geosmin is produced by many microbial classes, including cyanobacteria and actinobacteria, and released into the soil upon death of these microorganisms. When it rains, the geosmin is released into the air along with a natural "additive" (an oil that is separated from certain plants during dry periods and absorbed by clay soils and rocks).

Geosmin is also found in beets and turnips in bottom-dwelling fish such as carp and catfish (and is responsible for the earthy / "muddy" taste of bottom-dwelling freshwater fish). People are particularly sensitive to the compound and can smell it in concentrations as low as five parts per trillion.


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