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Release: Feb. 23, 2001

Iowa engineer receives $1 million to study Asian effect on California air quality

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Californians may be interested in nearly $1 million in grants recently received by a University of Iowa professor to study Asian air pollution.

That's because the researcher, Gregory Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the UI College of Engineering, is studying how Asian pollution is increasingly affecting air quality in California and the rest of the Western United States.

Internationally known for his studies on the environmental impact of Asian development, Carmichael learned years ago that rapid industrialization in Asia is affecting California air quality. His new research, in part, will involve measuring and analyzing Asian pollution as it crosses the Pacific so that scientists can better determine how to reduce it.

"We know that Asia has a very heavily polluted environment," he says. "We are trying to learn more about pollution coming off of the Asian continent to better understand trans-continental pollution."

To accomplish that goal, Carmichael will participate from March through April of 2001 in two large field experiments using a ship off the coast of Asia and aircraft flying over the Western Pacific to sample large air masses of pollution flowing from such industrial centers as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. The support team includes a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ronald H. Brown research vessel, as well as a NASA DC-8, a National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) C-130, and a U.S. Navy Twin Otter aircraft. Carmichael and his research group will use computer models they developed for forecasting weather and pollution to direct where the aircraft will fly to sample pollution levels. "In addition to supporting the field operation, the models tested in this way will be used to help make pollution forecasts as common as tomorrow's weather forecast," he says.

"We want to be able to accurately determine the current influence of Asian pollution throughout the Pacific Basin and on the United States, and how they contribute to present and future changes in climate. We also want to predict what the effects on California air quality will be in 2020," says Carmichael, who estimates that Asian emissions could contribute as much as 30 percent to the pollution levels observed over the Western United States. Carmichael hopes that his work will help stimulate inter-governmental dialogue and develop basic strategies for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other donor institutions concerning energy and environmental policy advice.

In previous studies, Carmichael has found that rapidly increasing emissions created by Asian industrialization, mixed with wind-borne dust rising from the Gobi Desert combine to pollute the atmosphere in Asia and in North America. In particular, dust particles contribute to about 20 to 40 percent of the sulfur dioxide that is oxidized to sulfuric acid, and may modify the way in which smog is formed.

The three grants, focused primarily on pollution transport, include:

  • A three-year, $495,748 NASA grant to study "Impact of Mineral and Other Aerosols and Asian Emissions on the Chemistry of the Troposphere."

  • A three-year, $263,099 NASA grant for "Regional Scale Forecasting and Experiment-Specific Emission Estimates of Gas and Aerosol Distributions in Support of the TRACE-P Experiment."

  • A three-year, $228,310 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for "Three-Dimensional, Regional-Scale Modeling of the Processes Affecting Aerosol and Chemical Distribution in East Asia and Support of Ace-Asia."

Carmichael says that individuals interested in following the day-to-day progress of his pollution studies can do so on the web at: http://www.cgrer.uiowa.edu/ACESS/FORECAST_PRODUCTS/fp_index.htm. News media representatives can reach Carmichael by email at: gregory-carmichael@uiowa.edu.

Carmichael serves as co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), which fosters interdisciplinary research and training in the field of environmental change and is concerned with both the scientific and human dimensions of global change. CGRER currently consists of 65 faculty, 75 graduate students, 15 postdoctoral and visiting scientists from 17 departments -- ranging from economics and law to physics and astronomy -- and six colleges at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Additional information about CGRER can be found at http://www.cgrer.uiowa.edu/.