By Erik Vance, University of California Research
UC scientists built and worked in towers as part of the largest single atmospheric research effort in the state. The data they've collected will guide policymakers dealing with air pollution.
When geologists want to catalogue California’s rock layers, they bring a few axes, a compass and broad-brimmed hats. When biologists want to understand birds, they need decent binoculars and good hiking boots. But when scientists catalogue California’s air pollution, they bring planes, a large ship and instrument-equipped towers, some as tall as 1,500 feet.
At least that was the case with CalNex, the largest single atmospheric research endeavor in California history. The effort partnered the California Air Resources Board (ARB), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and numerous universities and research teams throughout the country, including many in the UC system. “It approaches the largest field study that we’ve been involved in,” says David Parrish, a lead NOAA scientist for CalNex.
The idea behind the project was to create a massive database of the state’s air over an intensive six-week period to focus on air pollution problems in its most affected regions. On the American Lung Association’s list of America’s most polluted cities last year, four of the top five spots were in California.
For those who live in places like Bakersfield, Los Angeles and Fresno, the air pollution means high levels of emphysema, asthma and cancer. Yet the project also offers opportunities to study the complex relationships between chemicals in the atmosphere as well as to lessen health effects. CalNex was an opportunity for the best atmospheric minds in the country to assemble, further their understanding of the skies and offer solutions to policymakers desperately in need of guidance.
“No group has the capability to measure all these parameters,” says Jochen Stutz, an atmospheric scientist at UCLA. “So the only way we can really do cutting-edge science is by getting together — everybody specializing in a certain type of measurement — and then combining all our efforts into these huge data sets.”
Stutz’s tower, which he co-managed with CalTech and NOAA, held 70 different monitoring devices used by 40 independent teams. Located in Pasadena, it was designed to monitor urban air pollution.
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