Climate: Historic paintings offer atmospheric clues


Many of J.M. Turner’s famed impressionist sky scenes were painted shortly after the 1815 eruption of the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia.

Study traces pollution levels by analyzing 500 years of art

Staff Report

FRISCO — Looking closely at some of the world’s great paintings from the past 500 years has enabled scientists to track the history of atmospheric pollution, based on the colors the artists used to depict the sky.

For example, when he Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1815, painters in Europe could see the colors of the sky changing. The volcanic ash and gas spewed into the atmosphere traveled the world and, as these aerosol particles scattered sunlight, they produced bright red and orange sunsets in Europe for up to three years after the eruption.

Continue reading

Study: Methane emission estimates much too low


America’s natural gas infrastructure has leakage issues.

Methane emissions from natural gas industry facilities and other sources may be up to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A comprehensive air quality analysis shows that most estimates of methane emissions from various sources — including the natural gas industry — are much too low, a result that didn’t surprise the scientists who led the study. Total U.S. methane emissions are probably about 25 to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“People who go out and and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.” Continue reading

Environment: Study shows globalization of pollution


Haze over eastern China. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory. (LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team).

Researchers say West Coast smog partially caused by pollutants from Chinese factories that export products to the U.S.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Globalization of trade has nibbled away at the gap between the have- and have-not countries, but the massive transfer of manufacturing also had some unforeseen consequences for the environment.

For example, air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean from China to the West Coast of the U.S. is often caused by the production of the very goods that end up being bought by American consumers, according to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first to quantify how much pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere. Continue reading

Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

Study helps unravel the secret life of clouds

Air pollution can be a big factor in development of thunderclouds

Thundercloud over Peak 1

Air pollution can have a significant impact on the development of thunderclouds, causing cloud remnants to persist longer. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO — Air pollution can have a significant effect on the development of thunderhead clouds, causing the cloud remnants to persist high in the atmosphere long after thunderstorms dissipate. This, in turn, can affect daily temperature ranges, as the lingering clouds partially cool the Earth during the day with their shadows, but trap heat to keep nighttime temperatures warmer.

The new study, from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, helps answer long-running questions about how airborne pollutants affect climate warming. The findings will help provide a gauge for the accuracy of weather and climate models.

“This study reconciles what we see in real life to what computer models show us,” said atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan. “Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution, but the models don’t always show stronger convection. Now we know why.” Continue reading

Environment: Study finds airborne carcinogens downwind of tar sands processing area in Canada

Findings suggest that fossil fuel companies are not reporting all of their toxic emissions


Using data from a NASA satellite, researchers have found that the emission of pollutants from oil sands mining operations in Canada’s Alberta Province are comparable to the emissions from a large power plant or a moderately sized city. The emissions from the energy-intensive mining effort come from excavators, dump trucks, extraction pumps and wells, and refining facilities where the oil sands are processed. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page for more information.


The mines follow the course of the Athabasca River, the dark brown ribbon of water that runs down the center of the image. The river is essential to the operation. Over the course of its very long lifetime, the river has eroded through the sediment that once covered the oil deposit, gradually bringing it close to the surface. Without the river, the oil sands would likely be buried beneath a thick layer of earth. For more information, visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Airborne pollutants, including cancer-causing chemicals, are showing up downwind of Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone, in a rural area where men suffer elevated rates of cancers linked to chemicals like 1,3-butadiene and benzene.

The findings, compiled by researchers with the University of California-Irvine and the University of Michigan, also suggested that, in some cases, companies are not reporting all of the tons of chemicals they release. The sampling found high levels of 1,3-butadiene that could only have come from one facility, but there were no records of the company reporting those emissions.

“Our study was designed to test what kinds of concentrations could be encountered on the ground during a random visit downwind of various facilities. We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said UC Irvine chemist Isobel Simpson, lead author of the paper in Atmospheric Environment. Continue reading

Unregulated ammonia emissions from agriculture seen as environmental threat in national parks


A new study says trees in some national parks in the U.S. are already being damaged by deposition of ammonia and nitrogen compounds stemming from agriculture.

Depositions already exceeding critical thresholds in some parks

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — From the high country of the Pacific Northwest to the hardwood forests of New England, airborne deposition of ammonia and nitrogen are already taking a toll on national parks.

In Great Smoky Mountain National Park, for example, the amount of nitrogen being deposited per hectare already far exceeds the threshold that causes damage, according to a study led by Harvard University scientists.

Hardwood trees start to suffer when nitrogen deposition reaches approximately 3 to 8 kilograms per hectare, per year. According to the new study, the actual rate of deposition is about 13.6 kilograms per hectare, per year. In the forests of Mount Rainier National Park, it’s the lichens that suffer first as the critical limit is passed. Continue reading

Environment: Study suggests diesel fumes may prevent honey bees from finding flowers


A Colorado bumblebee searches wild fireweed for pollen or nectar. bberwyn photo.

Reactive exhaust gases change or destroy odor profiles of flowers

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Researchers tracking the decline of honey bees have discovered another clue, as a new study suggesta that diesel exhaust fumes may hinder the insects from finding flowers.

Bees use floral odors to help locate, identify and recognize the flowers from which they forage, but diesel fumes are highly reactive and can change the profile of floral smells, according to University of Southhampton researchers Dr. Tracey Newman and Professor Guy Poppy.

For the study (published Oct. 3 in Scientific Reports), the scientists mixed eight chemicals found in the odor of oil rapeseed flowers with clean air, and with air containing diesel exhaust. Six of the eight chemicals reduced (in volume) when mixed with the diesel exhaust air and two of them disappeared completely within a minute. The odour that was mixed with the clean air was unaffected. Continue reading

Environment: Soot pollution targeted by new lawsuit

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Green group cites lack of EPA enforcement in nine-state legal action

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — More than 100 years after the dawn of the industrial age, factories and power plants are still spewing toxic soot into the air, even though the technology to halt the pollution is readily available.

Conservation advocates last week said enough is enough, and announced a far-reaching lawsuit that would force the EPA to finally live up to its obligation to enforce Clean Air Act standards.

“The Clean Air Act can only work to protect public health and ecosystems if it is actually enforced,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA and the states have a moral and legal duty to work to together to clean up the toxic soot that’s polluting our skies.” Continue reading

Can air pollution shift rain bands and cause drought?


Lake Chad in 2001 is just a fraction of its normal size, surround by the drylands of the Sahel region in this NASA Earth Observatory image acquired by the MODIS satellite.

Research suggests far-reaching link between industrial emissions and climate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A decades-long drought in central Africa may have been caused by air pollution from industrial sources in the northern hemisphere. The drought peaked in the mid-1980s, as Lake Chad nearly dried up and researchers initially pointed to over-grazing and poor agricultural practices as the main cause.

But new research from the University of Washington suggests that aerosols emanating from coal-burning factories in the United States and Europe during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s cooled the entire Northern Hemisphere, shifting tropical rain bands south of their average position. Continue reading


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