AIRE: Atmospheric Information Resource for Educators and students

Recommended Resource: “What’s Up in the Atmosphere? Exploring Colors in the Sky,” an aerosols storybook from The GLOBE Program

Scientists and educators from NASA and UCAR have written a storybook entitled “What’s Up in the Atmosphere? Exploring Colors in the Sky” aimed at elementary school-aged (K-4) children, in which atmospheric aerosols play a starring role.  The story follows a group of curious students who, under the guidance of their teacher, investigate the connection between the appearance of the sky and asthma symptoms in their fellow students on a given day.  The students in the story (and the readers) learn about atmospheric aerosols in the process.  The storybook includes a teachers’ guide with glossary.

Recommended Resource: UMBC Atmospheric Lidar Group U.S. Air Quality Smog Blog

We recently came across the ‘Smog Blog’ maintained by the Atmospheric Lidar Group of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology .   They make frequent posts on current U.S. Air Quality, usually incorporating cool graphics from NASA or NOAA satellites, National Parks Service webcam images, or air quality model results. Check it out!

UMBC U.S. Air Quality: The Smog Blog

 

From the mailbag: What are Ozone Action Days and why should we care?

Question: An alert on my smartphone told me today is an Ozone Action Day.  What is that and how does it affect me? – D.E., New York, NY

Answer: An Ozone Action Day is a day when the concentration of ozone gas in a particular area is predicted to be higher than healthy levels. Ozone Action Days generally coincide with high Air Quality Index days.  Ozone is one of the main urban air pollutants that we regulate, due to its potential negative impacts on human health, alone or in combination with other pollutants such as particulate matter.  Ozone can irritate the lungs and cause respiratory symptoms, especially in sensitive groups such as children,  the elderly, and those with respiratory problems such as asthma or COPD.

On Ozone Action Days it is generally a good idea to avoid exercise outdoors if possible.  Children’s outdoor play time should be limited on those days, especially for children with asthma.  You can do your part to help keep ozone levels down on Ozone Action Days by taking measures to reduce your emissions of NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs): limit electricity use and use of gasoline vehicles.

Air Quality in Manila, Philippines

The AIRE team spends a few weeks every year visiting family in Manila, Philippines.  Like many vibrant megacities, Manila suffers from heavy traffic and poor air quality.  Starting in Summer 2015, the Philippine government has made real-time air quality monitoring data available from stations around Metro Manila.  Interested citizens can look up current PM2.5 levels and compare them to the 24 hour guideline value.  We note that the EMB 24 hr guideline value is 75 micrograms/m3, whereas the United States EPA 24-hour average PM2.5 standard is 35 micrograms/m3 (the yearly average standard is 15 micrograms/m3).

De la saca de correos: “¿Por qué es la contaminación del aire peor en el verano?”

Pregunta: Me gusta mucho la clima buena del verano, pero no me gusta la contaminación del aire. ¿Por qué es la contaminación del aire peor en el verano? – T.S., New York, NY

Respuesta: Hay muchos factores que trabajan juntos para producir más contaminación del aire en el verano que en las otras estaciones. En el verano, las temperaturas son más altas y hay más luz solar. Estas cosas aceleran algunas reacciones químicas en la atmósfera que conducen al smog. Alta humedad mejora la química de partícula de aerosol. Las plantas también emiten más compuestos orgánicos volátiles  (VOCs) naturales que se combinan con los contaminantes para que crear las partículas atmosféricas. Además, el aire tiende a ser más estancada cuando el clima está caliente.

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Quick Facts About Indoor Air

This long winter has had the AIRE team thinking about the amount of time we spend indoors, and the air quality there.

– These days, most people spend the vast majority of their time indoors (especially in the winter!). There is therefore high potential for exposure to pollutants indoors, i.e., at home or in the workplace.

– While what we think of as commonplace outdoor pollutants (e.g. car exhaust) may be less prevalent indoors than outdoors, other chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be present at much higher concentrations indoors. Indoor VOCs may come from many sources including cleaning products, air fresheners, and new furniture. They can harmful to health on their own, or serve as precursors for the formation of aerosol particles.

– You have probably heard about secondhand smoke, which is the exposure of non-smokers by being around smokers. Thirdhand smoke can also be a problem. This occurs when nicotine, tar, and other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke deposit on indoor surfaces like walls and carpets. People can be directly exposed to these chemicals through contact the surface, or reactions with gases like ozone may cause them to re-enter the gas phase.

We are looking forward to the warmer weather and more time in the fresh air outdoors!

De la saca de correos: “Mi hija tiene asma. ¿De qué manera la contaminación del aire afecta a su salud?”

Pregunta: Mi hija tiene asma. ¿De qué manera la contaminación del aire afecta a su salud? – M.N., New York, NY

Respuesta: Las personas asmáticas son muy sensibles a los efectos de la contaminación del aire. Al respirar el aire contaminado, esto puede desencadenar o empeorar los síntomas del asma.  El ĺndice de Calidad del Aire (AQI) es una medida que nos dice que tan ‘saludable’ es el estado actual del aire que respiramos. El AQI se calcula por los niveles de unas sustancias presentes en el aire, las cuales pueden afectar la salud humana, por ejemplo el ozono y la materia particulada. Un nivel AQI sobre 101 no es saludable para la gente asmática, mientras que para los adultos con un buen estado de salud y sin asma, un nivel de AQI sobre 151 no es saludable.

La Prof. McNeill también tiene asma y en los días con alto AQI, ella no se siente bien y usa más el inhalador. Cuando ella estudiaba en la universidad Caltech, cerca de Los Angeles, la calidad del aire fue muy mala, peor que hoy, y esto la motivó a estudiar la química atmosférica.

 

 

From the mailbag: “What does the air quality index measure, and what values correspond to ‘good’ air quality?”

Question: What does the air quality index measure, and what values correspond to ‘good’ air quality? – T.L., Manila, Philippines

Answer: Good question! The Air Quality Index (AQI) is calculated based on the concentrations of different pollutants in the air, including atmospheric particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.  According to the U.S. EPA, an AQI of 0-50 corresponds to “good” air quality. AQI of 51-100 is “moderate.” When AQI is 101-150, the conditions are “unhealthy for sensitive groups” such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. AQI of above 151 is considered unhealthy for everyone.

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