In the lonely reaches of northwestern North Dakota and across the border into Saskatchewan, the vast Bakken oil field hosts extensive activities to extract both crude oil and natural gas. Business is booming—production increased by 30 percent between May 2013 and May 2014. More than a quarter of the total gas produced from the Bakken operations can’t be processed fast enough, though, and the common industry practice is to flare it—burn it off as it is vented to the atmosphere. Jutting 30 feet upward like enormous lit matchsticks, the flares pose a new question for atmospheric scientists: What do the flares put into the air? A new NOAA-led study has produced the first direct measurements of how much black carbon—a major component of airborne particles that are commonly referred to as soot —is emitted by the Bakken flaring operations.
(September 1) Today NOAA released a free, downloadable flat screen version of its popular Science On a Sphere® (SOS), SOS ExplorerTM. This new way to display the dynamics of Earth’s weather and climate, plate tectonics and more will help teachers bring these stunning science visualizations, usually found at museums and science centers, into the classroom, where students can learn by exploring.
The hot and dry Santa Ana winds are associated with many of Southern California’s destructive wildfires, and even take the blame for tense, ugly moods. Now, NOAA researchers have found that on occasion the winds have an accomplice in contributing to California’s wildfires: atmospheric events known as stratospheric intrusions, which bring extremely dry air from the upper atmosphere down to the surface.
From our nation’s founding, the Fourth of July has been synonymous with fireworks. While many grew up learning that fireworks can be dangerous to the eyes and hands if not handled properly, fireworks also produce air pollutants, including particulate matter, that are linked to short-term or long-term health effects.
NOAA has authored a new study appearing in the journal Atmospheric Environment that quantifies the surge in fine particulate matter – particles that are two and one half microns in diameter (PM2.5) – on July 4, using observations from the 315 U.S. air quality monitoring sites that operated from 1999 to 2013. The new study is the first nationwide quantitative analysis of the effects.
A tougher federal standard for ozone pollution, under consideration to improve public health, would ramp up the importance of scientific measurements and models, according to a new commentary published in the June 5 edition of Science by researchers at NOAA and its cooperative institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The commentary, led by Owen Cooper of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, looks at how a new, stricter ozone standard would pose challenges for air quality managers at state and local levels. Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed lowering the primary ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 or 65 ppb, based on ozone’s known effects on children, the elderly, and people who have lung diseases such as asthma. A decision by the EPA administrator is expected in October 2015.