A US Environmental Protection Agency research grant of $719,780 will assist a Harvard researcher for a project to study how climate change will affect changes in dust and smoke on the Earth’s surface over the next several decades, which can have significant impacts on air quality.
The grant to the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in Cambridge, Mass. is one of 12 grants EPA is giving to universities nationwide to address current and future challenges to protect air quality from the impacts of climate change.
The Harvard project, called “Effects of Changes in Climate and Land Use on U.S. Dust and Wildfire Particulate Matter,” will look at impacts from smoke due to a rise in wildfires that are increasing as a result of climate change. It will focus on the West and Southwest of the United States, which are projected to become warmer and dryer with potentially large impacts on dust and wildfire.
Changes in climate and land use could increase surface levels of particulate matter – or tiny particles - compromising both human health and visibility. This project will better quantify the effects of these changes on dust and smoke burdens across country from now until 2050.
“We hope this research will help us understand how climate change is impacting our air and our health,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Through this kind of understanding we can help better protect human health and the environment.”
“Climate change is expected to bring about a cascade of effects – not just warmer surface temperatures, but also changes in the frequency of such natural phenomena as wildfires and dust storms, and could exacerbate the air quality problems already posed by wildfire smoke and dust, especially in the western U.S.,” said Loretta Mickley, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard engineering school. “Taken together, results from this project will better prepare health experts and environmental managers for the challenges of regulating air quality in a changing world."
Reliable projections of dust levels will improve the capability of the medical community to prepare for changing rates of asthma or coccidioidomycosis, a dust-borne disease whose incidence has increased eight-fold since the 1990s. Robust estimates of future trends in smoke episodes will be useful not just to the medical community but also to those responsible for wildfire management.
Research has shown that climate change can affect air quality and impact public health. With the nationwide funding, researchers also will expand investigations to understand:
- Atmospheric changes in air pollution chemistry that are occurring due to climate change;
- Potential consequences of increased levels of dust from particle pollution on human health and visibility;
- Impacts to air quality from increased nitrogen-based fertilizer use.
The grants are funded through the agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, are being awarded to the following institutions:
- Further details on this project and other research funded under this award:https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipients.display/rfa_id/594/records_per_page/ALL
- EPA’s air research: http://www2.epa.gov/air-research