Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (2024)

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NOAA, NASA and state researchers team up with flights, satellites and vans over Weld County in search of toxic ozone precursors, greenhouse gas plumes

Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (1)byMichael Booth

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Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (2)

Colorado’s battle with toxic ozone and damaging greenhouse gases will send new waves of scouts on the ground, in the air and up in space over the next two weeks, drawing on top U.S. scientists to pinpoint the biggest pollution sources and plan the next attacks.

NOAA, NASA and Colorado health department researchers are fanning out on and above northeastern Colorado’s rich oil and gas basin, productive farm and ranchlands, and busy urban corridors to measure greenhouse gases, ozone precursors like nitrogen oxides, methane leaks and more.

Such a comprehensive targeting of Colorado’s most troubling pollution sources hasn’t been done for 10 years, according to NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory scientist Sunil Baidar. Colorado’s northern Front Range counties are in “severe” violation of EPA ozone standards, and state regulators must enforce new pollution control policies to stop the violations in coming years.

After the thorough probe of Colorado, NOAA and NASA will move on to Salt Lake City, which is also violating EPA ozone limits meant to protect human health. The summer flights and ground maneuvers will measure emissions at their worst, when hot sunlight bakes pollution from cars, trucks, industrial sources and drilling operations into cap-busting peaks of ozone.

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Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (3)

Over the next five years, the federal agencies will cooperate with local officials on similar coordinated research in most of the large U.S. oil and gas production basins, NOAA said.

Far overhead, remote satellites can sense methane leaks and plumes on the ground. A King Air plane looks downward with optical methane imaging. A Twin Otter aircraft flies through layers of pollution directly measuring methane. Mobile labs on vans and trucks measure ground-level pollutants at oil and gas sites and throughout metro areas.

Taken together, the layers of instruments should help federal and state officials sort through the biggest sources of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, how that compares to 10 years ago, and where are the most promising places to better control other pollutants such as nitrogen or carbon monoxide.

Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (4)

Sharing “state of the art” technologies between government and academic researchers “may have immediate benefits for strategies to improve air quality and mitigate climate change,” said Steven Brown, NOAA’s Tropospheric Chemistry program leader.

A new set of measurements “will help the division make data-driven policy decisions and advance real-time forecasting” warning Coloradans of pollution levels, said Michael Ogletree, director of the state health department’s Air Pollution Control Division.

Colorado was declared in “severe” nonattainment of ozone limits in nine northern Front Range counties by the EPA, and must file improvement plans and pass rules to back up policy changes before a 2027 deadline.

The Denver metro area has already recorded a number of ozone violations at various sensors so far in the 2024 ozone season, with a steady beat of ozone action alert days warning the vulnerable to be careful about outdoor travel and recreation.

Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Michael BoothEnvironment Reporter

booth@coloradosun.com

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly SunUp podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author...More by Michael Booth

Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers (2024)
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