(Photo: Fire crews attempt to contain wild fire in Oregon that began as a controlled slash burning fire. Photo by Istockphoto)

PULLMAN — A group of researchers in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research have received an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant to look at the impacts of global climate change on regional air quality in the U.S.

The three-year, $900,000 grant builds on previous EPA-funded work, in which researchers looked at air quality 50 years into the future in the Pacific Northwest. From that initial study, they concluded that we can expect to see more days of poor air quality in future years. Several cities in the region can expect to see an increase in the number of days in which they have unhealthy levels of smog and most cities will see higher ozone levels on future summer days.

With support from the Environmental Protection Agency and in collaboration with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest Forest Service Center, the researchers will continue to look at the effects of global change on continental and regional air quality into the middle of the 21st century and to carefully measure the uncertainties in the models.

The group has been looking at such questions as how global warming will affect air quality on regional and urban scales, how land use change affects air quality and how fire and fire management affects regional air quality.

The new grant will allow the researchers to improve the models and their uncertainties, so that they have a better understanding of the potential impact of climate change on future air quality. The researchers will use a combination of computer models that predict future climate change, meteorology and emissions to look at 36 kilometer grids in the continental U.S. and a 12-kilometer grid throughout the Pacific Northwest. The researchers are particularly focused on how particulate matter and ozone levels will be affected in the future, as these pollutants are particularly important for regulatory agencies to set policies. The new work will also allow the researchers to gain understanding of how wilderness areas will be affected.

The study is expected to provide a better overall understanding of global climate change on future air quality including changes in land cover, urbanization, emissions from natural sources and fire emissions.

In an EPA press release last week, Brian Lamb, professor of civil and environmental engineering, said, “This grant is follow-on to current EPA funding and gives us the opportunity to take advantage of the team and infrastructure built in the first grant. This grant will allow us to focus more on the uncertainties associated with the range of possible conditions in the future.”

Elin Miller, EPA Regional Administrator, said, “Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility, and WSU and their team of researchers are taking steps to make sure that we understand these global changes. EPA is pleased to work with partners — like these in our universities — to protect the earth’s atmosphere.”

For more information about the research project, visit:
http://www.epa.gov/ncer/06global/wsu

For more information about EPA’s global climate change program, visit:
http://cfpub.epa.gov/gcrp/.