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Team to study how globalization affects air quality

Tue, 12/15/2009 - 10:55am
Cornell University

Members of three Cornell colleges will work together to develop a suite of computer models to forecast regional air quality levels, thanks to a four-year grant of almost $600,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"The models developed will help extend predictions of future air quality by taking into account not only changes in global climate change, but also changes in trade patterns and economic geography associated with globalization, future transportation infrastructure and technology, power generation and transmission, fuel sources and emissions," said Peter Hess, associate professor of biology and environmental engineering, who is leading the effort.

He noted that air pollution is likely to be exacerbated across large portions of the country in the future solely due to a changing climate.

"In fact, air quality may be degraded to the extent that many locales may no longer be able to meet EPA standards for acceptable pollution levels," Hess said.

Kieran Donaghy, professor and chair of city and regional planning; Natalie Mahowald, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences; and Max Zhang, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, are co-principal investigators. Research by faculty members in all four departments is concerned with climate change and environmental planning.

The project is unique not only because of its interdisciplinary nature, but also because it will attempt to represent the effects of planning interventions at local and regional levels.

"Presently, most air quality models simulate economic behavior and associated emissions on a global scale; regional effects are derived in a top-down fashion and problems of scale resolution often arise," Donaghy said. "By taking into account both global developments and factors at finer scales of resolution, we hope to be able to develop more accurate projections of air quality for the northeastern United States than are presently available."

The modeling, however, should be applicable (with appropriate modification) to air quality forecasting in other regions and be integrated into larger-scale models of atmospheric conditions.

The researchers plan to conduct workshops with such stakeholders as logistics firms, regional utilities, the Department of Transportation, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and regional EPA officers to develop scenarios of developments on regional and global scales and associated emissions scenarios; to construct and calibrate models; and to conduct simulation experiments and synthesize results for interpretation and documentation.

The work of the investigators will be supported by the new Institute for Computational Sustainability, which will help to analyze the results and provide visualizations of model solutions and qualitative analysis of the models' long-term stability properties. An Academic Venture Fund project sponsored by the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future on energy and environmental assessments of electrified transportation has provided preliminary results for the funded proposal.

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