Kirk Beckendorf, July 19, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 19, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time Noon ET
Latitude- 44 8.76 N
Longitude- 66 42.03 W
Air Temperature 12 degrees C
Water Temperature 9 degrees C
Air Pressure 1007 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface South
Wind Speed at surface 11 MPH
Cloud cover and type FOG!!!

Daily Log

Ozone can be a major pollutant but we don’t release it into the atmosphere, so where does it come from?

More fog!!! We are all getting tired of the fog. I wonder what the Nova Scotia coast looks like. We have been along the coast for awhile, but I only got a glimpse through the fog for a few minutes.

We followed the Boston pollution up here but now we are in clean air. It has been very interesting, for both the scientists and myself, to see how the kinds and amounts of the gases has changed as the pollution gets older. Leave a glass of milk in the sun on the kitchen counter for a few days and it will change. Air pollution floating in the air and cooking in the sun also changes.

Paul Goldan points out some of today’s data which shows that the air is coming from a pine forest. Every thirty minutes Paul’s equipment samples the air and measures the concentration of 150 different VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Some VOC’s can be man made and others are natural. This morning’s data shows very low levels of human pollution but there are spikes in the graph for two chemicals that are released into the atmosphere by pine trees (the pine scent). We look at the wind profiler and see that the wind is blowing from Nova Scotia.

Avery Bell emailed and asked which pollutant is most potent. As I have mentioned, the two parts of air pollution are the gasses and the particles. According to several of the scientist on board, ozone and the very tiny particles are the two of most concern from a health standpoint. Small particles and ozone can both damage your lungs. For people who already have breathing problems (such as asthma or emphysema), it can make matters even worse. Ozone also damages plants, both wild and agricultural crops, reducing crop yields. The cost of agricultural losses was one of the first reasons that ozone became a concern.

Every day I spend time talking with some of the scientists who are here from NOAA’s Aeronomy Lab. They are studying ozone and many other gases in the atmosphere. To decrease ozone pollution is much more complicated than just saying let’s reduce the amount of ozone we release. We don’t release ozone into the atmosphere as a pollutant!!! It is made in the atmosphere when other gases combine in the presence of light.

Imagine you live in the desert and you plant a tree in your back yard. It of course needs water, air, nutrients from the soil and light to survive and grow. In your backyard it gets all of the light, air and nutrients that it needs; but imagine that you never water the tree. The tree survives because it gets a little rain, but it doesn’t grow much. Water is limiting its growth. If you water it a lot, the tree grows a lot.

High ozone levels occur in a similar way. For ozone to form, certain gases and sunlight have to be present. If there is only a small amount of those gases, only a small amount of ozone can form. But if there are a lot of those gases, a lot of ozone will form. In the unpolluted atmosphere, there are low amounts of the gases that are needed to make ozone. Guess what happens when we burn fuels to run our vehicles, to make electricity, to heat and cool our homes, and to make the products that we use every day. You guessed it; we release a lot of the gases that are needed to make ozone. Ozone can then reach the high levels necessary to become a health risk. It does not take that much ozone to be at a dangerous level. A level of 80 PPB (parts per billion) for 8 hours is considered too high.

It is very difficult to try and understand what 80 parts per billion really means but I’ll try to help. It takes about 31.7 years to have 1 billion seconds. Imagine how much air you would have if you took a breath every second for 31.7 years and blew all of the air into one balloon. Now imagine that 80 of those 1 billion breaths were ozone. The concentration of ozone in the balloon would be 80 PPB.

Questions of the Day

What are three activities that you do everyday that can add to the atmosphere the gases that help form ozone?

What can you do to reduce the amount of those gases that you are responsible for producing?

Based on the example in the last paragraph how many breaths of ozone could you have in the balloon if there was 1 PPB?

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