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Release: Oct. 2, 2002

Carmichael receives $2.3 million NSF grant to develop pollution 'weather forecasts'

Gregory R. Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the University of Iowa College of Engineering, has received a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use information technology to develop pollution "weather forecasts" and expand the frontiers of atmospheric chemistry and air pollution science.

The grant focuses on using new computational tools, including computer software, to integrate computer models with pollution measurements made from aircraft, ground stations and satellites. Carmichael says that one goal is to improve models of complex systems and their behavior on society and the economy. He also plans to integrate information technology research advances into science and engineering in order to inspire new insights into how to protect the environment.

"One aspect of the grant is to develop 'chemical weather' forecasting capabilities. There is a societal need to know whether tomorrow will bring dangerous levels of pollution to a certain region or not. We are focused on developing the capabilities to do this," says Carmichael, who co-directs the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. "The tools and concepts that we develop will be tested on problems such as monitoring Asian pollution, forecasting chemical weather in Los Angeles and using new satellite information to understand global pollution."

He notes that the Earth's atmospheric system is very complex, making it extremely difficult to anticipate all the ways in which emissions of manmade chemicals will impact the environment. Although scientists have made surface measurements at some locations, conducted intensive experiments at others and have begun to monitor the atmosphere using satellites, mankind's ability to understand the fate of chemical pollutants remains incomplete.

"We simply must find clever ways to bring together the measurements and the models -- only then can we hope to have a predictive capability," he says. "And this predictive capability is essential to provide guidance for anticipating how the Earth will respond to our pressures and actions."

Carmichael, who also serves as associate dean for research and graduate studies and Karl Kammemeyer Professor of Chemical Engineering, currently conducts research into high-speed supercomputing to support his air pollution studies. His three-dimensional atmospheric chemistry model is used to quantify the worldwide fate and impact of man-made pollutants.

The grant, a partnership between the UI, Michigan Technological University, California Institute of Technology, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Washington, will also help researchers to further study Asian pollution, a field where Carmichael has earned international acclaim. Earlier this year, Carmichael and his colleagues accurately forecast the formation of the so-called "Asian Brown Cloud" that began as a Gobi Dessert dust storm before mixing with pollutants from Asian factories and cars. Eventually, it blotted out the sun and caused people to wear face masks in Seoul, South Korea.

Also during 2002, Carmichael and about 15 colleagues used a NOAA P-3 aircraft based in Monterey, Calif. to measure carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, dust and other pollutants that had crossed the Pacific. They combined their data with weather forecasting maps to develop pollution weather maps. The maps, created by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), in collaboration with The Applied Mechanics Institute at Kyushu University in Japan, Argonne National Laboratory and the NOAA Geophysical Fluids Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, can be viewed on-line at