Phosphine (PH3), was recently found worldwide even in the remote atmosphere (Naturwissenschaften 83 (1996a,131, Atmos. Environ. 37 (2003) 2429). It is of interest to find natural mechanisms which could produce phosphine gas and drive a volatile link of the atmospheric phosphorus cycle and the formation of phosphoric acid as possible condensation nuclei for clouds.Here we report on simulated lightning exposing sodium phosphate in a reducing medium (methane model atmosphere or organic matter) for 5 seconds to a spark induced by microwave. The gas product analyzed by gas chromatography contained phosphine (yield up to 0.6 g per kg phosphate P) and methylphosphine (CH3)PH2 (yield up to 0.02 g per kg phosphate P).We suggest a plasma-chemical formation mechanism where organic compounds or methane or secondary hydrogen thereof reduce phosphate to phosphine of which a small fraction can subsequently react with methyl radicals to form methylphosphine. A small yield of 6 mg phosphine per kg phosphate P was even obtained in methane free medium, by simple plasmatic recombination of inorganic phosphorus. We believe that methane and hydrogen are useful model substances of pyrolytic gases with high reducing power which may form if lightning strikes biomass, soil and aerosol.These results suggest evidence that phosphine and methylphosphine (detectable in the field by intense garlic odor) are produced when atmospheric lightning strikes the ground or aerosol which is containing oxidized forms of phosphorus and chemical reductants.Additional reviewed data show that laboratory lightning was able to reduce a much more significant portion of phosphate to phosphite (up to 25% yield), methylphosphonic acid (up to 8.5% yield) and traces of hyposphosphite in a matter of seconds.
Helmholtz Research Programs > MARCOPOLI (2004-2008) > POL1-Processes and interactions in the polar climate system