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More than 200 scientists, five aircraft, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s premier research ship, and an array of land and sea-based sensors are converging in east Texas and the northwestern Gulf of Mexico this summer to observe the area’s pollution levels and assess the impact on air quality and regional and global climate. NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder is leading the joint study, along with 60 federal, state, university, and private-sector partners Aug. 21 through Sept. 30.
“The air quality aspect of the study is an example of how NOAA’s applied and operational science mission saves lives and protects human health. It also will provide information needed to devise practical environmental action, saving money for taxpayers and industry,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The study will seek to solve some of the most complex questions about atmospheric exchange of heat, so that we can understand the overall global climate system.”
The Texas Air Quality Study is one of the nation’s largest air quality field campaigns to date. Researchers are taking detailed measurements of air chemistry and summer weather to help the state’s decision-makers develop cost-effective strategies for managing ozone pollution. The new information also will shed light on complex air quality problems elsewhere in the nation and assist efforts to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for ozone, airborne particles or aerosols, and regional haze. NOAA’s primary planning and funding partners in TexAQS 2006 are the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Environmental Research Consortium.
NOAA conducted a similar but smaller study in the same region in 2000. A plan to reduce targeted emissions, based on those earlier findings, was recommended and established by the state. An independent report estimated the recommended reductions in emissions would save Texas $9 billion and 64,000 jobs over 10 years compared to alternative options. This year’s TexAQS will assess the effectiveness of those targeted reductions. Other goals of TexAQS 2006 are to evaluate the accuracy of new air-quality forecast models and to determine how the transport of ozone, ozone precursors, and aerosols into and within state borders impacts air quality.
TexAQS scientists are deploying two NOAA aircraft, a WP3 and a Twin Otter, and the NOAA premier research ship, Ronald H. Brown, to characterize the region’s ozone problems. In addition, an aircraft from Baylor University and an array of atmospheric monitoring sites are examining the sources and atmospheric processes that create ozone and aerosols and the atmospheric transport that carries pollutants into and out of Texas. The team also is analyzing aerosols, which adversely affect human health and produce the regional haze that reduces visibility.
In a companion study, researchers at the Gulf of Mexico Atmospheric Composition and Climate Study, are trying to determine how the same local and distant pollution sources that affect air quality in Texas may also influence regional and global climate. The primary focus is how aerosols affect heating and cooling in the climate system, either directly by absorbing or scattering radiation, or indirectly by increasing the number of small droplets in clouds. In computer models of future climate change, the impact of aerosol and clouds on climate is the most uncertain. Aerosols also can alter rainfall, convection and the lifetime of clouds.
“This experiment is a key part of NOAA’s climate program to address the direct and indirect effects of aerosols on the exchange of solar radiation between the surface of the Earth and space,” says NOAA's A.R. Ravishankara, director of ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division. “The results of these experiments will have important implications for other regions and for global climate.”
The NOAA aircraft and ship will lead the climate component of the field study with detailed investigations of the sources, evolution and transport of pollution and its interaction with clouds and climate. A second Twin Otter aircraft, from the California Institute of Technology and the Naval Postgraduate School, and a NASA aircraft will join the NOAA aircraft for the climate-related observations. NOAA and NASA satellite data will be used to plan flights, validate observations and analyze the distribution of climate-driving gases and particles.
Major research partners in the companion studies are the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, University of Houston, NASA, EPA, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. Institutions in Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom also are involved.
In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807, by Thomas Jefferson, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
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