Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and partner organizations are launching a major field project across the northern Front Range of Colorado this month to track the origins of summertime ozone, an invisible but harmful pollutant.
The researchers will use specially equipped aircraft, mobile radars, balloon-mounted sensors, and sophisticated computer simulations to measure local and far-flung pollution sources. Results from the month-long study will provide needed information to officials seeking to ensure that air in the region is healthy to breathe.
It marks one of the largest research projects to look at summertime air pollution on the northern Front Range, including Denver, which often exceeds federal standards for safe levels of ground-level ozone pollution despite efforts to reduce emissions. Ozone can lead to increased asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments. It also damages vegetation, including crops.
Image shows map of the FRAPPÉ study area in northeast Colorado (©UCAR).
FRAPPÉ will sample and examine the atmospheric conditions pertaining to air quality across the northern Front Range of Colorado, including the urban corridor from south of Denver to Fort Collins as well as the adjacent plains and mountains. Study area is indicated in blue.
"Our goal is to produce an accurate and detailed view of all the diverse sources of ozone pollution along the Front Range," said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, a principal investigator on the project. "We want to fingerprint where the pollution comes from and analyze what happens when it mixes in the atmosphere."
Known as the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment (FRAPPÉ), the study will track emissions from both human-related activities and natural sources. It will focus on the urban corridor from south of Denver, north to Fort Collins, as well as the adjacent plains and mountains. Scientists also want to determine how much pollution comes from upwind areas, including other states and countries.
Funded through a federal-state partnership, FRAPPÉ is supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor.