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Petrichor: The Smell of Dust After Rain

Updated on November 21, 2016
Author: Dsyrengelas
Author: Dsyrengelas | Source


Petrichor: the smell after rain

A summer storm breaks fast

The air is thick with sweet relief

Dry earth meets sky at last

Etymology

“Petrichor” has two roots from the Greek language. Petra means “rock” in both Greek and Latin, and is also evident in the word “petrify” (meaning “to make stone”). Ichor is the mythological golden blood of Greek gods. In legend, it was lethal to mortal humans, which perhaps helps explain the obsolete medical use of “ichor” to describe infected fluid seeping from ulcers or other wounds. “Ichor” was also widely used since the 1600’s to refer to animal blood and by early twentieth-century geologists to label a liquid that oozes from magma.

Source

History

The word petrichor can be traced to its first use in a 1964 Nature research publication by mineralogists I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. They coined the term to describe the “essence of rock”—officially also known as “argillaceous odor.” Bear and Thomas also published additional related articles through Nature.

Source

Science

Plants, rocks, clay-based earth, and rain after warm, dry weather: these set the stage for petrichor. What we smell is a mixture of substances brewed by the rain:

-Plant oils: certain plants produce oils and lipids during drought-like conditions to self-protectively coat themselves from sun damage and their seeds against germination; these wash off with rain and are absorbed into clay-based soil and rocks

-Actinobacteria spores: the bacteria responsible for decomposing organic matter give off actinomycetes, which are what we first smell as rain starts falling

-Geosmin: the chemical odor source of a bacterial by-product in wet soil is released by agitation, such as from being stepped on or rained on

-Ozone: the presence of any lightning in a storm yields the faint smell of ozone in the air

Petrichor in "The Doctor's Wife"

Dr. Who and Perfume

Petrichor has appeared in the Dr. Who television show from BBC. Written by Neil Gaiman, “The Doctor’s Wife” episode used the sensory memory of petrichor as part of a telepathic password sequence. “Petrichor” was then revisited as a perfume advertisement in a later Dr. Who episode written by Gareth Roberts, entitled “Closing Time.”

The smell after a rainstorm is lush and distinctive, and widely experienced as pleasant or even enchanting. As illustrated in the science-fiction world of Dr. Who, perfumerers have taken note of petrichor’s appeal. For a perfumery perspective and recommendations of earth-based perfume scents:

Petrichor Awareness Poll

When did you first learn of the word "petrichor"?

See results

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, I taught geography and science, so I'm not sure when I first learned this word. I do know I've never had it explained quite so well as in this hub. Well done!

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      billybuc---You certainly have a broad teaching experience! I continue to be impressed by your range of knowledge. Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my efforts. I greatly appreciate the support, especially as a new writer here. ~Lurana

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very well done mixing the mystic into science into personal experience. That is very precise and perfect writing. Along with Interesting and useful I gave you the coveted awesome on this hub.

      It was 120 degrees, I was in a place known as the Esplanade. About 3,ooo feet and smack center in the Grand Canyon. With hardly a blocking of the sun a huge thundercloud formed and let loose a torrent of rain. Steam actually rose from the ground and off of dormant bushes, cactus and mesquite. I could hardly breath.

      So I learned the concept by fire. As I walked this place known as "Surprise Valley" I watched flowers bloom in minutes and animals arise and be seen. Even tadpoles emerged in places where rain gathered and the sage perfume became an intoxicant.

      Thanks for bringing back the memory.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
      Author

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Ericdierker--You have added such beauty to this topic with your memory.....I am in awe myself of what you describe. I was at the Grand Canyon once myself, but as a baby so I don't remember. Rain in the desert is such an outpouring of grace and life; what a moment you were able to witness!!

      Thank you so much for sharing! :-)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Amen sister. There is total glory in subjects like this that you have explained so well. ... Let us keep looking!!!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful share and thank you so very much.

      Eddy.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Eddy---Thank you so much for reading and commenting! :-)

      ~Lurana

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      Well my lovely Lurana - I have learned a new word today thanks to you and once again you 'fire up' my brain cells which having laying around dormant for the most of the day (lol) due to my head cold.

      I see rainbows from time to time over the lake and when looking for explanations and reasons why it is usually the thrill and power of science which gives us answers.

      Thank you for being such an astute writer, no doubt full of curiosity yourself, and taking me to places I've never been before.

      lake erie time ontario canada 5:49pm and sending to you warm wishes and good karma from Colin and his cats

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      epigramman---I guess my time watching Dr. Who has not been wasted!! :-D I do love obscure words and finding out the "why" of anything magical...and it seems that the deeper scientists study the workings of this universe, the more magic and mystery they find. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment!! :-)

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Well written and interesting.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Sheri Faye---Thank you! I appreciate it. :-)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      You have educated us with wonder at such a word! I love the smell of earth when it is wet during a rain. This is so interesting to read. Very well done. Voted up.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Very interesting Hub, and I am really familiar with that undefinable perfume that we get when rain hits hot surfaces, having grown up in Africa.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      teaches12345---Thank you so much for your positive feedback! I love that wonder-full smell too.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Vickiw---Thank you for commenting with your experience!

      Africa, wow--- I was lucky enough to visit Egypt (Cairo, Luxor, and travelled to the Sinai Peninsula) and absolutely loved the the desert and smell of the rain when it came in Cairo once (and it was so fast and furious that we just had to wait it out!).

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Woo. I've learned a new word today and we must get a lot of it here in Singapore! Thanks for sharing! Passing the "word"-and this hub- around!

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Hello midget38, Thank you for visiting! Sending you much appreciation from Chicago :-).

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I've learned a new word today, thanks to you Lurana. I just love the smell after it rains.

    • profile image

      hlwar 4 years ago

      Interesting! I've an odd fascination with words but I never heard this one until right now - which can be seen as a shame as I love anything to do with Neil Gaiman. ^^

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      rajan jolly---Thank you for reading, and I am glad to have offered you something new, as you did for me with your cardamom article! :-)

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      hlwar---I love words too but had not come across this one before either. I have heard so much about Neil Gaiman and have meant to read him for a while now...I really should.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      rdsparrowriter 4 years ago

      Well written and nice to read since I've never heard of this. Thanks for sharing :) Voted up and shared!

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      rdsparrowriter---Thank you very much for your feedback and support; I appreciate it! Have a great day.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      well MrsBrownsParlour thank you for educating this old board..LOL learned something new today :)

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
      Author

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Frank---Thank you for stopping by to read an older piece of mine! I learned almost everything in this one for the first time when I researched it myself. :-) Lurana

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wow I was Just Hiking in the Grand Canyon the Mariah kicked and in minutes we had light rain that danced across the mighty Colorado and up into the side canyons. It was an in between Petrichor. And we were all woken up at two in the morning. Glances were exchanged and hair rose in static. Then another Mariah and the wind carried the Petrichor up the canyon and we settled in for a storm. The Earth is wonderful and we are a part of it.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
      Author

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Eric, that is awe-inspiring....thank you for sharing, it makes me almost feel and smell it. Magnificent.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting and informative. I had never heard of this until reading your hub, but always smelled the earth outdoors during and after rain. I didn't know it had a certain name or that scientists actually studied this. Thanks for sharing your unique knowledge with us.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 3 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Suzette---Thank you for reading and commenting! This information was new to me too until I researched it. Such is the joy of learning!! :-) ~Lurana

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I so love learning new words, and not only have you taught me a new word, you have done so with such expertise. I love your hubs! Voted up and awesome.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 3 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Kim---Thank you! I also love learning new words, especially ones that I had no word for previously! It's rare and fun to find something totally new, and I enjoyed researching this one. Thanks for your very nice comment. :-) Lurana

    • Laurinzo Scott profile image

      Live To Write 9 months ago from Phoenix, Az.

      My first introduction to this...but my how smartly you addressed and made this soooo interesting... Nicccce

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image
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      Lurana Brown 9 months ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Thank you, Laurinzo, for reading and for your kind comments. :-)

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