Grants awarded to U researchers to study COVID lockdowns’ effects on air quality

The research projects will study how changes in human behavior during the pandemic affected air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

This is adapted from an announcement by NOAA. Find the original here

University of Utah atmospheric scientists are recipients of two grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study how the changes in human behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic affected air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. The two awards total nearly $800,000.

NOAA’s Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle, and Climate (AC4) program and Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM) program announced eight new 2-year projects in Fiscal Year 2021 that aim to leverage the natural experiment created by the significant reduction of emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic to understand how anthropogenic activities affect local and regional air quality. The competitively selected projects total $3.18 million grant awards

Human activity has been profoundly altered by orders in numerous countries to shelter in place and other restrictions on business as usual. With restrictions in place for weeks or months at a time, emissions of all trace gases and aerosols have decreased. It falls on careful curation and analysis of any existing measurements, either in situ or from satellites, to quantify the exact impact of the pandemic on atmospheric composition, including its place in a larger context of long-term trends, and its variability across the globe. The analysis of this extreme event in atmospheric composition will not only help to understand the episode itself, but could address fundamental questions in atmospheric transport and chemistry and inform future mitigation strategies, especially as chemical regimes might be changing with drastic emissions reductions.

University of Utah researchers are investigators on the following projects:

COVID impact on urban GHG emissions: A multi-city investigation

    • Total funding: $400,000
    • Traffic levels dropped dramatically in March 2020 in North America as cities, states and nations ordered residents to stay at home to prevent transmission of the virus. This event provides a unique test of our ability to quantify rapid changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from abrupt changes in social and economic behavior. The project team will use existing tower-based measurement networks, GHG data sets, atmospheric models, ecosystem models, atmospheric inversion systems and urban emissions inventories where possible, building on years of development of the NIST urban testbeds and the NOAA CO2-USA programs, to document the impact of the pandemic on GHG emissions from six cities, and to test the ability to develop high spatial and temporal resolution, sector-specific GHG emissions monitoring. The project will demonstrate the capabilities and limits of these observational and modeling systems, and move communities closer to the ability to monitor GHG emissions mitigation efforts in near-real-time.
    • U professor John Lin is a co-principal investigator (PI) and research assistant professor Logan Mitchell is a co-investigator.
    • The lead  PI is Kenneth Davis at The Pennsylvania State University, with other co-PIs including Jocelyn Turnbull,  University of Colorado, Ray Weiss, University of California San Diego and Kevin Gurney, Northern Arizona University. Other co-investigators include Natasha Miles, The Pennsylvania State University; Jooil Kim, University of California San Diego and Geoffrey Roest,  Northern Arizona University.

“This project compares the emissions across a handful of cities in North America with high precision observing networks, including Salt Lake City,” Lin says. “The study will show how changes in human behavior, including currently discussed measures to reduce greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere, can be detected and monitored.”

Tracking impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns & recovery on urban atmospheric composition at neighborhood scales with public-transit based measurements

      • Total funding: $399,904
      • Urban public transit systems provide an ideal, cost-effective platform for urban atmospheric monitoring. Public transit covers large spatial domains across divergent urban typologies and were operational through the COVID-19 lockdown period. Measurements on the light rail system in Salt Lake City (TRAX) include greenhouse gases (CO& CH4) that can be used to evaluate primary combustion emission inventories and further develop modeling techniques to understand the spatiotemporal patterns of emissions. TRAX also measures air pollutants (PM2.5 and O3) that form from secondary chemical reactions. The dramatic change in emissions during the COVID-19 lockdown period and the resulting shifts in urban atmospheric composition observed by TRAX provides a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between primary combustion and secondary pollutants. It will also accelerate our fundamental understanding of urban atmospheric chemistry. This project will increase understanding of the spatiotemporal and sectoral changes in emissions, how changes in primary combustion affected secondary air pollutants, and what the urban atmospheric implications are for policies that target emission reductions.
      • Mitchell is the PI of this project, with Lin and research assistant professor Derek Mallia as co-PIs. 
      • Brian McDonald, of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, is a co-investigator.

“This grant will help us understand the relationship between fossil fuel combustion and air pollutants as well as demonstrating how public transit based atmospheric monitoring platforms can be utilized to examine urban atmospheric chemistry,” Mitchell says. “The results will help us understand how air quality will improve as clean energy is deployed and emissions decrease in the future.”