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Climate change may worsen summertime ozone pollution

Ozone pollution across the continental United States will become far more difficult to keep in check as temperatures rise, according to new research results.

The study shows that Americans face the risk of a 70 percent increase in unhealthy summertime ozone levels by 2050.

The results appear online this week in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Warmer temperatures and other changes in the atmosphere related to a changing climate, including higher atmospheric levels of methane, spur chemical reactions that increase overall levels of ozone.

Unlike ozone in the stratosphere, which benefits life on Earth by blocking ultraviolet radiation from the sun, ground-level ozone can trigger a number of health problems.

These range from coughing and throat irritation to more serious aggravation of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

Even short periods of unhealthy ozone levels can cause local death rates to rise. Ozone pollution also damages crops and other plants.

Unless emissions of specific pollutants associated with the formation of ozone are sharply cut, most of the continental United States will experience more summer days with unhealthy air by 2050, the research shows.

Heavily polluted locations in parts of the East, Midwest and West Coast, in which ozone already frequently exceeds recommended levels, could face unhealthy summer air in most years.

"It doesn't matter where you are in the United States, climate change has the potential to make your air worse," said National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Gabriele Pfister, lead scientist on the study.

In addition to NCAR, the paper co-authors are from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; University of Colorado, Boulder; and

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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