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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 14, 2008

Image: The more concentrated areas of aerosols flowing from Beijing during the opening weekend of the 2008 Olympics are shown in red. Image by Greg Carmichael.

UI engineer helps monitor China's air pollution during Olympics

The level of air quality in Beijing, China continues to be a major story of the 2008 Olympics, with Olympic athletes showing concern for their health by wearing masks or otherwise modifying training activities.

However, a University of Iowa College of Engineering researcher and his colleagues are taking a more scientific approach to studying China's air pollution. In one project, he is collaborating with colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, where they are monitoring the results of China's efforts to reduce pollution from unmanned aircraft flying downwind from the Chinese mainland and high above the Pacific Ocean.

In a second study, he and his collaborators are part of an $800,000 study, funded by NASA's Applied Sciences Program, combining satellite observations with models to attempt to quantify the impact of Olympic emissions controls on local and regional air quality.

Greg Carmichael (photo, right), UI professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and internationally recognized air quality researcher, said that these studies are probably the best way to get an idea of how successful the Chinese have been in cleaning up their air for the Beijing Olympics. During the period of the experiment, five-day forecasts of the local aerosol distributions are provided every day.

"We are forecasting the Beijing plume under normal emission levels and with the controlled emission levels," Carmichael said. "We are then getting daily satellite images of pollution levels and putting together the model results with the emission estimates and satellite data to see if we can verify and quantify the effectiveness of the controls.

"Our team includes Chinese emission experts. They are providing daily estimates of emissions resulting from local emission control efforts, such as reduced traffic," he said.

(Forecasts and further details are available at

Carmichael noted that the air samples have so far shown that the air during the Olympics has been somewhat cleaner than normal.

"According to the Olympic plans for emission reductions, we expect to see a 10 to 50 percent decrease in pollution emissions," Carmichael said. "They are making serious efforts to reduce pollution levels, and they have succeeded to some extent.

"We are using this unique opportunity to test our ability to document and quantify emission changes using state-of-the-art observations and models. These techniques, in theory, can be applied anywhere in the world to provide a means to verify emission changes," he said. He added that he has been invited to present findings from the studies at the Beijing Environmental Forum in November 2008.

In addition to participating in the NASA study, Carmichael is taking part in a study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The 21-month study will summarize what scientists know about air pollutants flowing into and out of the United States by looking at a variety of pollutants including ozone.

Carmichael serves as a UI administration representative to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of over 100 universities. In October 2005, he was part of the U.S. delegation attending an environmental conference, "Strategic Approaches to Regional Air Quality Management," in Beijing. Carmichael is a veteran Asia pollution researcher, having designed a three-dimensional atmospheric chemistry model currently used to track man-made chemicals released into the atmosphere. In 2004, he received $770,000 in NASA and NOAA grants for air pollution studies in addition to a 2002 five-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to use information technology to develop pollution "weather forecasts."

He and his UI College of Engineering colleagues were honored with the NASA Group Achievement Award for their contribution to one of the most comprehensive environmental studies of its kind -- the 2004 Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment -- North America (INTEX-NA).

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One,
Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Greg Carmichael, UI College of Engineering, 319-335-5191,; Gary Galluzzo, University News Services, 319-384-0009,