CGRER Looks Forward: Chemist Betsy Stone


Julia Poska| April 19, 2019

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Betsy Stone, contributed photo.

Betsy Stone looks at the very air she breathes every day on a microscopic level.

“Since I started my career here at the University of Iowa, I’ve been amazed at the very interesting air quality events that we’ve been able to study here locally,” the associated professor of chemistry and chemical engineering said.

Her group has researched the environmental impact of a massive tire fire at the Iowa City landfill in 2012 and the ongoing impact of biomass incineration at the University of Iowa Power Plant. Earlier this month, they embarked on a new project to study pollen fragmentation in the local atmosphere.

Listen to learn about Stone’s findings on the air quality impacts of the university’s Biomass Project. 

Stone explained that pollens are fairly large particles and tend to settle out of air quickly. If humans inhale them, they immediately get stuck in the nostrils. Rain events often wash pollen out of air, but in 2013 Stone observed an unusual phenomenon; after thunderstorms, pollens fragmented into much smaller particles and their concentration in the air greatly increased.

Other researchers had observed this phenomenon elsewhere, but never in the Midwest.

“We’re able to follow up with a very heavily instrumented field campaign that we think is going to answer a lot of the burning questions that we have about this type of event,” Stone said.

She’s hoping to learn more about the conditions for fragmentation, the species of pollens present and how they fragment. To do so, the group will use a large suite of equipment—including a meteorological station, an aerosol biosensor, particulate matter monitors and particle samplers—stationed at the university’s cross country course.

Stone said this research has implications for understanding the effects of climate change.

Stone studies air quality variation across space. Hear her speak on some key differences between rural and urban areas.

“Part of the reason this research is so important to do right now is that we’re starting to observe changes in our seasons as well as increases in the intensity of thunderstorms,” she explained.

Pollen season is starting earlier, and increased storms mean fragmentation could happen more frequently. Higher temperatures increase pollen loads, too. That’s bad news for people with allergies or asthma, especially since small fragments can travel deeper into the respiratory tract.

Particulate matter can impact the temperature, too. Atmospheric particles can scatter incoming sunlight, creating a cooling effect, but can also absorb energy like greenhouse gases do. Cloud droplets form around particulates, and the quality of the particles impacts the longevity and precipitation cycles of the clouds.

Stone’s group researches more distant phenomena as well, mainly sea spray aerosol collected at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

Chemical reactions in the atmosphere can create new particles. Hear Stone talk about Secondary Organic Aerosols.

Ocean bubbles release particles into the air when they burst, which contain both salt and organic matter. Stone’s lab seeks to understand what type of organic matter is present and how it chemically transforms in the sky. This too has implications for understanding climate.

“It’s really important to understand a natural source of particles like the ocean because we have a lot of uncertainty associated with aerosol loadings and composition in preindustrial times,” she said. Thus, our estimates of past climates are not especially accurate.

Understanding natural sources of particulate matter, like pollen and sea spray aerosols, helps provide a baseline to measure climate variation over time. Data on particulate matter can provide a baseline for measuring the success of emission reduction plans and other policies as well, she said.

 


***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspectives and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***

 

 

 

CLE4R project continues to educate Iowans, improve air quality


AirBeamDiagram
In an effort to educate Iowans about particulate air pollution, CLE4R has made Air Beam air quality monitors available for check out at the Dubuque Public Library, Dubuque Community School Districts and at the University of Iowa. (Taking Space)
Jenna Ladd | March 28, 2017

Clean Air in the River Valley, also known as CLE4R, is a collaborative effort to improve air quality in the city of Dubuque and nearby communities.

The project is a partnership between University of Iowa IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering the city of Dubuque, and surrounding Upper Mississippi River Valley communities. Founded in October of 2015, CLE4R’s four pillars are environmental education, technology, partnerships, and planning.

Most parts of eastern Iowa and western Illinois experience air pollution that makes the air unhealthy for residents during at least some part of the year. CLE4R aims to reduce particulate matter in the air that is smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5). This type of air pollution is particularly common in Iowa’s Upper Mississippi River Valley communities.

Dr. Charles Stanier, University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is director of the program. He said, “We have reached over 1,000 Iowans with high quality information about air quality and the health benefits of clean air. We have done this through our in person events, our website, media coverage, and social media.”

CLE4R has also worked to offer Iowans the practical experience of measuring air pollution in their communities independently. Stanier explained, “CLE4R has introduced all the stakeholders in the project: city staff, teachers, environmental groups, and local businesses, to the AirBeam hand held particulate [matter] monitors that are available for checkout from the City of Dubuque, the University of Iowa, and the Dubuque School District. ”

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Program and is set to end this July. Representatives from CLE4R will be present at the Dubuque’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) festival on April 22nd and at Iowa City’s Science Technology Engineering Art and Math (STEAM) festival on April 23rd.

EPA calls for reduction in small-particle production


Photo by nevadog, Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency is calling on Iowa businesses to lower their small-particle pollution within the next two years. The EPA sent a more stringent request to Muscatine, asking them to comply within 18 months.

According to the EPA’s website, these small particles cause health problems and damage the environment. The most common health effects include an increase in respiratory symptoms, decrease in lung function and the aggravation of asthma symptoms. Additionally, the particles can turn bodies of water acidic and damage farm crops.

On the other side, The Des Moines Register reports that the expenses connected to limiting small-particle pollution could limit job creation:

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the administration is studying the new rules and is working with the DNR and business groups to make sure the requirements do not block future job growth.

“There is no higher priority for our administration than job creation, and the governor will remain vigilant in identifying any regulatory impediments to job creation in Iowa, and work to ensure Iowa businesses are able to grow, prosper and expand here,” Albrecht said.

 

CGRER researchers develop air pollution prediction system for Santiago, Chile


Santiago, Chile. Photo via http://www.weltreis.ch

Quicker predictions will help officials protect public health

In the Southern Hemisphere, the months of April, May and June mark the transition from summer to winter and usher in masses of stagnant air that often give rise to urban air pollution.

That’s why a study conducted by CGRER researchers — and published in the May issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment — that describes a system to predict periods of high air pollution is attracting attention in Santiago, Chile, a city of nearly 6 million people. Continue reading