CFCAS and the University of Calgary announce Exciting New Air Quality Research Project
October 1, 2008
Research will allow a more accurate assessment of the impact of increased nitrogen oxide emissions in the Canadian North
The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) and the University of Calgary are proud to announce $173,495 in new funding over two years to support research that will advance Canada’s science and technology objectives while helping prepare for the impacts of climate change.This funding will support the work of University of Calgary researchers, Hans Osthoff, Ann-Lise Norman, Todd Sutherland, and Peter Kusalik, who will be investigating sunlight-initiated decomposition reactions of nitrous and nitric acid deposited on the surfaces of snow and ice crystals. The results of this laboratory study are highly relevant to the Canadian North, where increases in population, development, traffic and pollution can be anticipated as a result of the changing climate.
“Observations in Antarctica have shown that sunlight efficiently dissociates nitric acid that has deposited on snow and ice,” says Hans Osthoff, assistant professor and lead researcher, at the University of Calgary. “Among the products are nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are volatile gases. In the atmosphere, these compounds produce ozone, which is a greenhouse gas and a pollutant. Our work will contribute by studying these processes at a molecular level.”
The proposed research (See Backgrounder attached and below) will use a combined experimental and theoretical approach to investigate yields of gas-phase NO and NO2 from irradiated frozen solutions of nitric acid, nitrous acid (a critical intermediate), and model organic nitrates. It will also be determined if isotope enrichment takes place during these processes. Isotope measurements are routinely used to track the physical origin of nitrogen oxides; knowledge of isotope fractionation processes is critical to interpret such data and to draw conclusions about the extent of this chemistry in the Polar Regions.
The funding is part of the $5.5 million recently awarded by CFCAS to promote research across Canada aimed at increasing knowledge and training in air quality, extreme weather, climate sciences or marine environmental prediction. The competition focused on research that could guide environmental policy or adaptation strategies. Funds were awarded to research on air quality, northern science, weather prediction and forecasting, climate change and water resources. Multidisciplinary collaborative research was encouraged, as well as partnerships with researchers in the health or social sciences, as appropriate.
“This project is a perfect fit for the goal of this competition, which focuses on research that will give decision-makers the scientific tools they need to face future challenges,” says Gordon McBean, chair of CFCAS. “This is the sort of information that must be built into sound public policy, innovation and strategic development, moving us forward into an era of mitigation and adaptation to climate change and associated factors.”
This is the Foundation’s seventh and final competition under its current mandate and is funded entirely from interest revenues of CFCAS investments. CFCAS has invested over $110 million across Canada over the past eight years to support a suite of research projects.
What is the research being funded?
This funding will support the work of University of Calgary researchers Hans Osthoff, Ann-Lise Norman, Todd Sutherland, and Peter Kusalik, who will be investigating the photochemical recycling of nitrogen oxides on snow and ice surfaces in laboratory experiments. The results from this study are relevant to regions that are blanketed in snow and ice over prolonged periods and receive relatively little precipitation, such as the Canadian North and the Arctic. The Calgary group will receive $173,495 over two years to perform this work.
Why is this research relevant to Canadians?
Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are produced during high temperature combustion processes (such as motor vehicle or marine vessel engines, power plants, mining operations and factories) and play a central role in the photochemical production of ozone, an irritant gas that is associated with poor air quality and negative impact on health. Recent laboratory and field measurements have revealed that nitrogen oxides deposited on snow and ice (in the form of nitrate) can be recycled to their active forms by sunlight. Thus, the effective lifetime of NOx in the Arctic environment is larger than at lower latitudes and production of ozone is regionally increased. However, large uncertainties remain as to the magnitude and mechanisms of the underlying processes. These uncertainties need to be addressed in light of the rapid changes that are about to occur in the Arctic, such as the expected thawing of the NW passage and the associated onset of marine traffic through this fragile environment. This study will allow a more accurate assessment of the impact of increased emissions in the Arctic environment and will therefore be highly relevant to policy
How will it help policymakers prepare Canada for the future?
Science is emerging as the best tool for building sound public policy and adaptation and mitigation measures to climate change and related events. This project will address different facets of the upcoming challenge of climate change.
Furthermore, this will help implement the federal government’s science-and-technology strategy, which outlines objectives of investing in skilled human resources, cutting-edge research and the practical application of that research, enhancing Canadian science and reputation at home and abroad.
What is the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS)?
CFCAS is the major funding body for university-led climate research in Canada. It is proud to have invested over $115 million in 155 research initiatives across the country since 2000. The work has led to breakthroughs in climatology, meteorology and oceanography, many of which have found their way into the operations of the federal government and private companies. The research has substantial, concrete impacts on policy, weather prediction, the economy, human security and other issues of importance to Canada. CFCAS supports work that contributes to the 2007 federal Science and Technology Strategy by nurturing Canada’s “Knowledge” and “People” advantages.
Why is it important to fund the climate and atmospheric sciences community?
Weather and climate affect all Canadians and have a major impact on our economy. According to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of the world’s climate, and a report from Natural Resources Canada on adaptation to a changing climate, Canada can expect more extreme weather events such as droughts, torrential downpours and floods, ice and snow storms, and more days of extreme heat and smog. These impact Canada’s economy and the health of its citizens. More than ever, decision-makers and strategists need new knowledge from meteorologists, climatologist, oceanographers and other scientists to put Canada on a path to serious, effective adaptation and to guide our emission reduction strategies, both for greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
For more information:
Senior Communications Manager
Faculty of Science
(403) 540-6552 – Cell
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS)
(613) 238-2223 ext. 202