Utah State University researchers have teamed up with the Division of Air Quality and other state universities to study how much of an influence, if any, the Great Salt Lake has on ozone formation along the Wasatch Front.
USU, the University of Utah and Weber State University are all working under the direction of the Department of Environmental Quality’s DAQ, deploying sensors this summer near the Great Salt Lake to detect smog-forming ozone as part of a study funded by the 2014 Legislature.
Researchers suspect that the Great Salt Lake may be a primary contributor to the ozone in the Wasatch region because studies already confirm that the body of water “influences a lot of the meteorological patterns” in the area.
Randy Martin, research associate professor at USU, said it is already known that the Great Salt Lake controls a lot of the meteorology around it, and meteorology is a big factor in pollutant transportation and storage.
“Then it was speculated what effect does this have on pollutants?” Martin explained.
“Does it actively produce ozones over the lake? And we just don’t know the answer to that.”
For USU’s part, gathering data for this study will involve using ozone sensors mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles as well as tethered and free-flying balloons.
In addition, more ozone sensors near the ground have been deployed around the Great Salt Lake by DAQ than are normally available, said Seth Arens, a scientist with DEQ’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ), in a press release.
“The universities provide specialized ways to deploy ozone sensors, for example, on a UTA TRAX light rail car and vehicles, including a small van referred to by the University of Utah as the ‘Nerdmobile’ that contains a suite of air pollution sensors,” Arens said.
Students and researchers involved in the project will be analyzing the ozone and weather data collected as the project unfolds and then continuing in the fall.
Breathing ozone can trigger a wide range of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and those susceptible to asthma.
Martin said although Cache Valley isn’t much affected by Wasatch Front ozone, that doesn’t mean these potentially harmful levels of pollutants aren’t something local residents should look out for.
“We occasionally get values that push any new standard (the Environmental Protection Agency is) going to come out with,” Martin explained. “We could be looking at doing some of the more restrictive regulations if we exceed this new ozone standard. It’s not guaranteed we’ll exceed it up here, but we’re not out of the woods for sure.”
Martin was referring to the fact that the EPA is expected to unveil a new tighter ozone standard later this year — something scientists at the Division of Air Quality say is a key reason to conduct this study.
Martin explained that “as the research community, we kind of want to get ahead of the game and understand all of what is contributing to the ozone in that region … before that declaration (of tighter standards) is made.”
The Wasatch Front being declared a non-attainment area for ozone means the ozone is above what is considered safe.
“That should be the No. 1 concern,” Martin said. “Moreover, it would mean Utah officials would have to put in place programs to reduce our emissions, even more than we’re doing for PM2.5.”
Martin said explained that PM2.5 and ozone are formed from many of the same compounds.
“Places like the Wasatch Front, it’s going to be difficult because they’re already cranking down to limit on the PM2.5, and they’re going to have to go down even more to get rid of the ozone,” he added.