Skip to Content Find it Fast

This browser does not support Cascading Style Sheets.

UNH Home | EOS Home | Login  
UNH and NOAA Head Effort to Study New England Air Quality
DURHAM, N.H. -- In an effort to identify why the northeastern United States has some of the worst air quality in the country, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) largest research vessel, Ronald H. Brown, will be based in New England waters this summer to monitor air pollutants and how they travel through the region.

"With the combined capabilities of several NOAA research laboratories and our university colleagues, we have assembled the most complete package of atmospheric gas and particle sampling instrumentation ever deployed aboard Ronald H. Brown," said Tim Bates of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "These measurements should give us a much better understanding of the transport and transformation of pollutants in this region.

The month-long New England Air Quality Study, partially initiated by the NOAA-funded Atmospheric Investigation, Regional Modeling, Analysis and Prediction (AIRMAP) project headquartered at the University of New Hampshire, involves more than 20 partner institutions. In addition to the heavily instrumented ship, a G-1 Gulfstream research aircraft operated by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will also collect data with instruments developed at both PNNL and DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"This is a rare opportunity," said Robert Talbot, director of the AIRMAP Cooperative Institute and professor of Earth science at UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space. "You don't get a large research vessel situated off the coast like this very often."

The 274-foot Ronald H. Brown will be visible off the coast of New Hampshire and the research plane may be visible overhead.

NOAA's Environmental Technology Laboratory will set up a Doppler LIDAR at Rye Harbor State Park for observations of sea breeze. The equipment trailer will be seen on Route 1A in Rye. Seven integrated wind-profiler systems will be deployed at various sites in New York and around New England. These systems, which measure wind and temperature, will help document the transport of pollution into and out of the Northeast.

The New England Air Quality Study will enhance current research of New England's air quality through the AIRMAP project. For the past three years, AIRMAP has taken pollutant measurements from monitoring stations located in three rural New Hampshire sites. The ship and plane will be used as additional monitoring sites, offering the advantage of mobil platforms.

"We have been sitting in a stationary area measuring what is coming to us. With the ship, aircraft and additional ground instrumentation, we'll be able to go upwind and tell what is in the air coming our way," Talbot said.

"The plane has the ability to sample over a broad range of distances and can look vertically in the atmosphere," added Peter Daum, the lead investigator from Brookhaven. "This lets us understand how these pollutants are distributed in space and how they relate to the sources of these pollutants."

Understanding what particulates and gases are being transported to New England is essential to understanding the entire picture of air pollution in the region. By collecting measurements from aircraft flying directly over pollutant sources, scientists will learn about what is coming from outside the region, such as from the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic states and from urban areas, such as Boston and New York.

"A review of air pollution episodes in New England suggests that blobs of polluted air often lurk in the Gulf of Maine during the summer months, causing high pollution levels in coastal areas," says Jim Meagher, of NOAA's Aeronomy Laboratory. "The sophisticated instrumentation on board NOAA's research vessel gives us just the tools we need to better understand the sources and fate of this pollution."

Information gathered from the ship will be helpful in understanding the sea-breeze effect, which can change the chemistry of the air and potentially make it less polluted. According to Talbot, this effect occurs during the summer when air flows inland due to heating of the air over land, and then gets pushed back out to the sea when cooling occurs later in the day. The only way to determine the sea breeze effect is to monitor the air off the coast at different locations. A mobile research platform such as a ship is ideal for these applications.

Many universities and institutes are using this rare opportunity to experiment with these large research platforms while in New England. Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles are measuring the concentration of pollutant gases in downtown Boston, a University of Virginia experiment is looking at aerosols and gases from the ship, and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is researching the exchange of gases between the ocean and the atmosphere.

AIRMAP is collaborating with the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, Harvard Forest, SUNY-Albany and other groups on this project. -30-

For additional information on the New England Air Quality Study, visit the Web site at:

Contact Amy Seif
Communication and Information Coordinator
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space

Barbara McGehan, NOAA Public Affairs