August 2014

Photo: W. von Dauster, NOAA

A container of instruments moves up the BAO tower while the NASA P3-B flies by during the multi-agency air quality study DISCOVER-AQ

Air Quality

CSD researchers – international leaders in air quality research – are focused on understanding the details of the processes that can lead to air pollution. Polluted air prematurely kills more than 60,000 people in the United States every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

CSD groups involved in air quality research

Cloud & Aerosol Processes: airborne & surface observations, data interpretation

Atmospheric Remote Sensing: airborne & surface observations, data interpretation

Regional Chemical Modeling: model studies, data interpretation, field campaigns

Chemical Processes & Instrument Development: laboratory studies

Atmospheric Composition & Chemical Processes: airborne observations, data interpretation

Tropospheric Chemistry: airborne & surface observations, data interpretation

Chemistry & Climate Processes: model studies, data interpretation, field campaigns

In the 1980s, 10 years after the U.S. Clean Air Act put controls on emissions of many polluting chemicals, the air above some cities cleared up, yet other cities saw little change. CSD researchers and colleagues around the world began to realize that regional factors, from transportation patterns to emissions from natural vegetation, were critical in determining the effectiveness of clean-air strategies. With the help of powerful tools, including NOAA's WP-3D instrument-laden research aircraft, researchers and their colleagues began scrutinizing the air over U.S. cities and regions. The work has been and continues to be a key element in understanding basic chemical reactions that contribute to air pollution everywhere, as well as the unique chemistry and related processes in different regions.

Ozone – one of the primary pollutants in the "smog" that hangs over many cities – is one focus of CSD air quality research. High in the stratosphere, ozone is beneficial, but low in the troposphere, down near the Earth's surface, it is highly reactive and often destructive. Many atmospheric constituents, both natural and manmade, interact to affect tropospheric ozone levels, and understanding those sources of these constituents and the nature of their interactions provides a basis for determining how to address the problem of tropospheric ozone pollution.

CSD scientists also focus on understanding atmospheric aerosols (tiny airborne particles) and gaseous pollutants from a variety of perspectives: their effects on climate; their concentrations, sizes, and sources; and the "processing" of pollutants as they flow downstream from sources.

CSD research related to air quality

NOAA WP-3D in the NCAR hangar at Rocky Mountain Metro Airport

Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus

Boulder, CO Fourmile Canyon wildfire

Wildfire Soot

container ship Margrethe Maersk

Ship Fuel Regulations

ozone monitoring sites maps

Ozone Emissions

oil well

Oil & Gas Production