Dr. Charles Stanier is an assistant professor at the University of Iowa and a member of the Center For Global & Regional Environmental Research (CGRER). Much of his research focuses on air quality and atmospheric aerosols. Recently, I talked with Dr. Stanier over the phone and he detailed five of his current research projects.
The first project discussed dealt with researching the air pollution in the upper Midwest and determining ways to limit the pollution in order to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations:
“One project that we’re working on is with Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium [LADCO] on wintertime air quality in the upper Midwest. We’ve been working at it for about a year and a half now, and we probably have about 6-9 months to go . . . In 2007 the EPA lowered the short-term air quality limits from 65 to 35. That was such a big change because many of the locations in the upper Midwest were sitting right around 35. So, before the change they were well below the limits, but after the change they were right at the standard. What can cause a violation of this standard is that there are a few days each year during the winter of moderately polluted conditions.
“[LADCO] had a three phase project where phase one was to take the measurements, phase two was to summarize the measurements . . . and the last phase is to see how well air quality models reproduce the episodes and to say what kind of control strategies can be used to reduce NOx [Nitrogen oxide] from mobile sources like cars or stationary sources like electric generating stations. Also, [we are looking for] ammonia controls, which would have to be put on ammonia sources such as manure, sewage treatment plants and automobiles. So, we’re basically figuring out things not to do because they won’t help bring these places into compliance with the clean air act.”
Dr. Stanier then discussed his research on combustion-generated ultrafine particles. The project entails creating a more practical method of determining the concentrations of these particles:
“Another project is with the Health Effects Institute [HEI]. We’re just finishing up a three-year study where we’re building a simulation model for ultrafine nano-particles from combustion. The idea is that these particles are thought to have a much greater per mass health impact than larger particles. [These particles] aren’t long-lived in the atmosphere. Things that are short-lived in the atmosphere have big differences from place-to-place. So, if I measure these particles on an interstate, I might get a higher level than if I measure 100 meters away from the interstate. Ideally you could measure these things in a lot of places to get an idea of where the hotspots are for these combustion particles, but the monitors are expensive to buy, expensive to run and difficult to supply with a secure monitoring location . . .
“So, what we’d like to do is have a computational simulation that will predict the results of those experiments. Sang-Rin Lee and myself are building a simulation and then testing it against data from Long Beach, California where they set out 14 of these monitors for three months. Then we are going to predict concentrations of these combustion particles, and finally we’re feeding them into a larger epidemiological health study.”
“My career project is with the National Science Foundation, and it has a research component on atmospheric ultrafine particle formation from photochemistry. It also has an educational component which was the [middle school science teacher’s] workshop. The research component is led by Robert Bullard. In this project we’re doing our own measurements of atmospheric ultrafine particles . . . Many days during the year in the morning there are periods in the lower atmosphere where there’s a rapid formation rate of atmospheric nano-particles – often involving sulfuric acid. If this process didn’t happen, there would be a lot fewer of these particles in the atmosphere.
“In cities where there’s a lot of combustion, this isn’t so important, but most of the globe isn’t [composed of] cities. So, in all these other places this is the most important way we get particles in the atmosphere. Those particles then effect cloud formation, and clouds are the most important factor in climate. So, there’s a need to accurately simulate these processes from the new particle formation up to its effect on clouds and climate. That’s the big problem, and my little problem is to make small-scale simulations, and to do measurements that allow me to evaluate my simulations.”
Dr. Stanier finished by briefly describing two new projects that he is a part of. The first one examines the effects the University of Iowa has on the surrounding area’s air quality:
“We have a new project with the University of Iowa power plant that’s a collaboration with Scott Spak and Gregory Carmichael where we are using air quality simulations and measurements to quantify the influence of electricity and steam generation at the University of Iowa on Johnson County’s air quality. And that project will go for the next 18 months.”
The final project mentioned by Dr. Stanier looks to determine the concentrations in urban and rural settings of a harmful chemical found in deodorant:
“Keri Hornbuckle and myself were doing measurements to determine the atmospheric concentrations of a compound called cyclic methylsiloxane. It’s the number one component in deodorant. The European Union and Canada are looking at restricting or banning it because of its potential to bioaccumulate in arctic wildlife and fish. [In other words], polar bears and fish can build up this compound . . . I did model simulations in conjunction with laboratory measurements. So, we have laboratory measurements of the chemistry of cyclic methylsiloxane, and we have a simulation of its concentration in urban and rural locations. What we lacked was the measurements, so a graduate student named Rachel Yucius deployed samplers recently in West Branch and Cedar Rapids.”
After Dr. Stanier finished describing his projects he explained why he chose to create the middle school science teachers’ workshop for the educational portion of his NSF grant:
“Society’s ability to deal with a changing climate requires an understanding of climate science and of how choices with energy effect the climate. Even more, it requires the ability for the public to assign levels of credibility to different sources of information about climate. I think all of these things fall under the umbrella of science literacy. So, long story short, I wanted to promote scientific literacy. What better way to do that than to work with middle school teachers?”