A year after China took drastic measures to reduce air pollution and clear Beijing’s often hazy skies for the Olympic Games, a Valparaiso University research team is traveling to Japan to study the impact of those efforts and shed greater light on how emissions from China are affecting other nations. Valpo is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research.
Dr. Gary Morris, an associate professor of physics and astronomy who has conducted extensive research of the transport of air pollution over long distances, and two undergraduate students will travel to Japan later this month to continue an air pollution research project that started last summer.
Valpo’s research team will replicate its 2008 work – when it launched 10 research balloons before, during and following the Olympics. Direct comparisons between the two years of data will provide insight into the impact of China’s pollution on air quality in Japan.
“There’s pretty clear evidence that Japan’s air quality is being negatively affected by Chinese emissions, but the question is to what extent,” said Dr. Morris, whose project is supported by a Fulbright Scholar grant and NASA’s Office of Earth Sciences.
Accompanying him to assist with the balloon launches and data analysis are Nathan Kellams, a junior physics major from Portage, and Ted Pietrzak, a junior meteorology major from Edwardsburg, Mich.
Pietrzak said sensors will continuously monitor ozone and sulfur dioxide pollution levels as the balloons rise to an altitude of more than 100,000 feet.
“Using computer models and weather data, we can gauge where pollution has come from on the days we release our balloons,” Pietrzak said.
Dr. Morris and his students will conduct their balloon launches at Hokkaido University. While the students will return to campus in late August, Dr. Morris will remain in Japan until late December and analyze pollution data at the Frontier Research Center for Global Change in Yokohama.
Following this summer’s research, Dr. Morris says the data collected will better quantify how much air pollution China is generating, show how that pollution is affecting neighboring Japan and indicate the effectiveness of China’s pollution control strategy for the Olympics.
Dr. Morris said last year’s research indicates air pollution generated in China can substantially impact air quality in Japan. An Aug. 6 balloon launch in Sapporo, two days before the start of the Olympics, showed a band of ozone approximately one kilometer above the city that was more than three times higher than the normal ozone level.
“That’s a pretty good sign of transported air pollution,” he said.
During the 2008 Olympics, Beijing enjoyed clear skies, which Dr. Morris said likely resulted from a combination of China’s efforts to slash air pollution and favorable meteorological conditions.
In May, Dr. Morris co-chaired a special session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Toronto that focused on air pollution and its interactions with weather and climate in East Asia before, during and after the Beijing Olympics. Dr. Morris and other researchers studying East Asian pollution in 2008 shared what they learned about pollution in China and the effectiveness of China’s pollution control measures.
“That was a good opportunity to see what everyone else was working on and I think that it will spur some future collaboration between scientists studying air pollution,” Dr. Morris said.
Before the end of his five months in Japan, Dr. Morris hopes to travel to Beijing and meet with air pollution researchers there.
“China has very high density industrial regions that generate significant air pollution with very few emission control measures,” he said. “It’s a growing concern in the region and beyond.”
During his time in Japan this summer and fall, Dr. Morris will post updates about the research and data collected online at physics.valpo.edu/ozone/fulbrightdata.html as well as on his project blog at polympics.wordpress.com.
The research project fits Pietrzak’s interests in pursuing a career in environmental work that would focus on sustainable lifestyles within industrial civilization.
“I have great interest in the ways humans negatively alter the Earth’s natural state, and air pollution is a critical problem that I can help research,” Pietrzak said.
Kellams, who has been working on a particle research project with Valpo physics faculty this summer, said the air pollution project provides an opportunity to get involved in a new area of research.
“One of the reasons I am taking on the environmental project with Dr. Morris is not only because the topic is interesting, but also to broaden my experience as a researcher,” Kellams said.
Dr. Morris has previously conducted research on air pollution emitted from countries in East Asia during spring 2006 as part of a NASA research project, and he has studied air pollution in Houston since 2004, launching nearly 300 balloons over the past five years.
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