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NASA study: Alaskan fires affected Houston air quality in 2004

An innovative new NASA-funded study based on a combination of satellite data, computer models and weather balloon readings finds that smoke from Alaskan and Canadian forest fires as much as doubled ground-level ozone thousands of miles away in Houston during a two-day period in July 2004. The study, which will appear online Sept. 26 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, offers scientists a rare glimpse at the precise air-quality effects from pollutants generated thousands of miles away.

The study, conducted by researchers from Valparaiso University and Rice University, found that ozone pollution levels increased significantly in the air above Houston on July 19-20, 2004. Researchers attributed the increase in part to smoke that was transported to the area over the course of a week from forest fires raging in Alaska and Canada. The study is the first to quantitatively examine the impact of remotely generated pollutants on air quality in the lower atmosphere.

In the summer of 2004, researchers in a NASA-led field research project sampled a variety of trace gases and aerosols ?tiny particles suspended in the air ?across North America. That same summer, physicist Gary Morris, both an associate professor at Valpariaso and an adjunct assistant professor at Rice, launched the Tropospheric Ozone Pollution Project (TOPP) at Rice's Houston campus with funding support from both NASA and Rice's Shell Center for Sustainability. TOPP involved daily launches of weather balloons from Rice's campus south of downtown. The balloons measured ozone levels from the ground to altitudes of more than 100,000 feet, offering the first clear picture of how much ozone was present in each layer of the atmosphere above the city.

While NASA scientists and Morris were collecting their data, forest fires in western Canada and eastern Alaska were consuming more acres than at any time during the past 50 years. Meteorological conditions carried smoke from these intense fires ea
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Source:Rice University


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