climate change research

Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting

By Dr. Michael Hiscock

Satellite image of large storm approaching the eastern United States

“Sandy” approaches the U.S. east coast, October 28, 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon with data courtesy of the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science team.

 

Derechos. Blizzards. Polar vortexes. Superstorms. Whatever you call them, you’re probably aware of the extreme weather events that have occurred with increasing frequency the past few years. What you may not be aware of is their complicated relationship with climate change, air and water quality.

Although science will probably never be able to pinpoint the specific cause of any extreme weather event, there is rising evidence that human-caused climate change is increasing the probability of future such events. This will have astounding societal and environmental impacts, as climatic and meteorological extremes can affect the hydrologic and atmospheric processes that in turn impact water availability, and water and air quality for people around the world.

This week, at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, I had the pleasure of convening a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session, Extreme Events and Climate Change: Impacts on Environment and Resources, was the largest global environmental change session at the meeting, and featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Over two days, we saw more than 70 presentations on how climatic and meteorological extremes have changed and what their impact on resources and the environment will be.

In 2011, EPA released its first grant solicitation (“Request for Applications,” or RFA) to support research exploring the topic of extreme events and climate change. The request, Extreme Event Impacts on Air Quality and Water Quality with a Changing Global Climate, sought research proposals designed to provide the information and capacity needed to adequately prepare for climate-induced changes in extreme events, in the context of air and water quality management. We were looking to support research institutions that demonstrated the ability to develop assessments, tools and techniques, and demonstrate innovative technologies to achieve that.

The 14 institutions we supported, all of which presented at the above mentioned session, are currently seeking to better understand extreme events and establishing ways for climate scientists, impact assessment modelers, air and water quality managers, and other stakeholders to co-produce information necessary to inform sound policy in relation to extreme events and their impact on air and water quality within a changing climate.

The session provided an international networking event for top researchers to showcase their results: to better understand how local and regional extreme events will change in the future; to identify the impacts of extreme events on local and regional
water and air quality; and finally, how to disseminate the information effectively to stakeholders. Collaboration opportunities like this one will lead to comprehensive analyses of extreme events to better form sound policy for preserving and improving air and water quality and protecting human health for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hiscock is a project officer in the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He supports scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program to improve the scientific basis for decisions on air, climate, water and energy issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Clean Cookstoves Research: An Opportunity to Benefit Billions

By Bryan Bloomer, Ph.D.

I have long appreciated the ability to cook and heat my home with minimum risk of exposure to toxic indoor air pollution. But I am also painfully aware that more than 3 billion people around the world rely on inefficient, unsustainable and dangerous cookstove technologies for their everyday cooking, heating and lighting needs.

Display of clean cookstoves.

EPA’s Bryan Bloomer examines clean-burning prototypes at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York City.

That is why I am so pleased to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other prominent leaders this week at the first ever ministerial- and CEO-level Cookstoves Future Summit, “Fueling Markets, Catalyzing Action, Changing Lives,” in New York City.

Traditional cookstoves typically burn biomass fuels such as wood, dung, crop residues, charcoal or the fossil fuel, coal. This causes a wide range of negative health effects to the people, primarily women and children, exposed to the smoke they emit. And there’s more. The use of traditional cookstove technologies also depletes natural resources, contributes to deforestation, and releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change at regional and global scales.

This is why clean cookstoves research is a top EPA priority. Our goal is to transform the sustainability and health impacts of the energy infrastructure in ways that will not only improve the health of billions, most of them disadvantaged women and children, but improve the global environment as well.

We conduct and support cooperative research to identify gaps and deliver practical solutions from a wide array of stakeholders. The Agency is leading an international clean cookstove research effort, helping to support the development of international cookstove standards, conducting trusted independent research on the energy efficiency and emissions of cookstoves, and improving our understanding of the negative health impacts from exposure to cookstove smoke.

In March 2012, EPA announced the funding of six universities to address residential burning and its effects on human health worldwide. This group of researchers is developing innovative technologies to quantify the impacts of cookstove emissions on climate and air quality.

Moving forward, we and our many partners in this global effort will focus on translating these results into the field, primarily bringing innovative, consumer-driven and life-saving technologies to individuals worldwide.

Turning research results into welcomed solutions is the topic of this week’s Cookstoves Future Summit. The summit presents a unique opportunity to further develop a thriving and sustainable clean cookstove market. Such a market will mean substantial progress toward preventing the more than 4 million estimated indoor air pollution related deaths due to traditional cookstoves and fuels.

The clean cookstoves challenge encompasses a number of health, social and environmental issues. Such a pressing and compelling problem presents us with a significant opportunity to improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Bryan Bloomer is the director of the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He works with grant managers that support scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program, to improve EPA’s scientific basis for decision on air, climate, water and energy issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Preparing to “Move:” EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change

By Andy Miller, Ph.D.

Large crowd of climate change marchers in New York CIty

Climate change march in New York City, September 21, 2014.

The issue of climate change is generating a lot of headlines again this week. The “People’s Climate March” in New York City, followed by the Climate Summit at the United Nations are sparking renewed interest in “taking action on climate change,” echoing the White House’s Climate Action Plan that President Obama released last summer. To lend our voices to the chorus, it’s also Climate Action Week here at EPA.

As a researcher working on climate change, I’m hopeful that such events, coupled with people’s own personal experiences, mean we are moving beyond the old “discussions” about climate change that have played out in the media by what seem to be a gang of professional arguers.

More and more people are experiencing higher temperatures, heavier downpours, rising sea levels, longer droughts, and bigger wildfires—all impacts that scientists have expected as the climate changes. Even though we can’t say for certain that any one of these is caused by climate change (see my previous post, What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?), taken together they provide increasingly strong evidence that the climate is changing and we need to prepare. And people are beginning to respond in meaningful ways to the reality of climate change.

So how do we know how to prepare? A good analogy to me is my recent move across the country. The basic preparation steps are similar: I looked for information about our new location, talked with experts who move people for a living, and made plans. When I started the actual process, I packed things one or two at a time, thinking about what I had to pack last and unpack first. It’s the same with preparing for climate change. We look for information and talk with experts, and then we make plans. We take actions one at a time, keeping in mind how those actions will affect other actions and don’t try to do everything at once.

Newspapers with articles and photographs of climate change march in New York City.

Taking action on climate change is big news.

EPA’s researchers are among the many people studying how climate change is affecting our environment to provide information to those who are making decisions. We study how rivers and coasts will change, and provide that information to towns, cities, states, and tribes so they can decide how they want to prepare for those changes and ensure their local communities will be resilient and healthy. EPA is doing research so we will continue to have healthy air as summers get hotter and drier. And we are working to develop the information needed by local water treatment facilities to deal with extreme rainfall events, so that our drinking water stays clean.

Knowledge, plans, and informed actions—these are at the heart of Climate Action Week. EPA science works behind the scenes to provide the knowledge people need to prepare for climate change and its impacts, so communities will have the best information possible to take action as they prepare their move into the new conditions brought on by our changing climate.

About the Author:Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Supporting Innovation for Cleaner Burning Cookstoves and Cleaner Air

By Jim Johnson

The end of May is always one of my favorite times of year. It includes Memorial Day, the official holiday to honor the service of our dedicated military personnel and military veterans, and my birthday.

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the end of May also coincides with the time of year when the evening air fills with the unmistakable scent of backyard grilling. Barbeque season. Here in this country, that distinctive odor of smoke is associated with tasty food, relaxing, and good times spent with friends and family.

But for most of the world’s population, the smell of an open fire is something completely different. It’s not nostalgic or a welcome diversion from the norm, but a necessity.

Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning fuels such as wood, plant matter, coal, and animal waste. And because most of that occurs indoors, it’s a health hazard, too.  The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves leads to 4.3 million premature deaths per year.

Cookstove researcher at work

EPA is a leader in conducting and supporting clean cookstove research.

What’s more, it’s not just a local problem. The smoke from traditional cookstoves is a major source of black carbon, an air pollutant linked to a range of impacts associated with our changing climate, including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt, and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation.

And that brings me to another reason why the end of May this particular year is even a bit more special for me than usual: Yesterday, EPA announced almost $9 million in research grants awarded to six universities to help usher in a new generation of clean, efficient cookstoves.

Funded through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, the research will focus on measuring and communicating the benefits of adopting cleaner cooking, heating, and lighting practices. The impact of the work will improve air quality and protect the health of billions of people, as well as slow climate change—a benefit for everyone, and the global environment, too.

The universities and their research are:

  • Colorado State University researchers will provide new cookstoves to rural areas in China, India, Kenya, and Honduras to explore how their adoption will impact and improve emissions, chemistry, and movement of indoor smoke; they will also assess health and climate impacts.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers will investigate how local resources in rural communities in Alaska, Nepal, Mongolia, and China affect the acceptance of cleaner heating stoves, and take measurements to learn how their use impacts air quality and carbon emissions.
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis researchers will measure changes in air quality and health outcomes from cleaner cooking and heating technologies in China, and model regional weather, air quality, exposure and human health impacts.
  • University of California, Berkeley researchers will explore the relationship between household and village-scale pollution to understand the effectiveness of using cleaner-burning cookstoves.
  • Yale University researchers will use socioeconomic analyses, emissions and pollution measurements, and global climate modeling to investigate the impacts of using next-generation cookstoves in India.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder researchers will use small, inexpensive sensors to monitor indoor air pollution exposure in homes. They will also collect data through health assessments and outdoor air quality measurements in Ghana.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the grants at a reception hosted by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. EPA is a founding member of this public-private partnership, which seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. Our collective goal: 100 million homes adopting clean cooking solutions by 2020. Achieving that will really be something to celebrate!

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s STAR program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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New Guide Provides Climate-Smart Solutions

By Jordan M. West and Susan H. Julius

Cover of publication, "Climate-Smart Conservation"If you’ve ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park, you know that it is a land of majestic peaks, clear blue lakes, and green forested slopes. But these days, huge swaths of dead, reddish-brown trees mar the view. As a result of climate change, ongoing drought and rising temperatures have weakened the trees and triggered more extensive and severe infestations of bark beetles. Whole stands of trees have died as a result.

Scientists have been predicting these types of negative impacts for years and expect them to worsen in the future. At the same time climate change also combines with existing pressures from humans in ways that can cause new and unexpected ecosystem changes. Therefore managers who work to protect our natural resources have to not only address traditional environmental problems, but also anticipate and prepare for future climate-change-driven challenges that they may never have seen before.

Managers recognize that conservation and natural resource management must be viewed through the lens of climate change and are asking:

  • How do we prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change?
  • What should we be doing differently in light of climatic shifts, and what actions continue to make sense?
  • What approaches are best for integrating climate change into our planning processes, managing for ecosystem changes, and re-evaluating management goals as new scientific information becomes available?

EPA researchers are helping to answer those questions. Agency climate change experts, together with partners from other federal agencies and non-governmental organizations, developed a guide to help natural resources managers integrate climate change into their planning.  Called Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice, the guide covers topics such as setting goals; assessing ecosystem vulnerability; identifying and prioritizing adaptation and implementation options; and monitoring the effectiveness of what’s been implemented.

For each topic, the guide demonstrates how to consider climate change information using examples such as Chinook salmon in the Northwest. In many streams where salmon spawn, climate change is expected to cause increased sedimentation (deposition of mud and sand particles), increased temperatures, and decreased flows in spawning habitats – all of which will be detrimental to the survival of eggs. The guide advises managers on how to consider “climate-smart” information on changes in stream temperatures, flows, and sedimentation rates in different locations as a basis for selecting sites for habitat restoration. This ensures that the restored sites will be good spawning habitat for salmon far into the future.

This and other examples in the guide provide a path forward for systematically incorporating climate adaptation into management planning and implementation. By using the guide, managers can craft management strategies that successfully achieve conservation goals in a changing climate.

About the Authors: Jordan M. West and Susan H. Julius are research scientists in the Global Change Impacts & Adaptation Program of EPA’s Office of Research and Development who contributed to the guide.

Reference: Stein, B.A., P. Glick, N. Edelson and A. Staudt (eds). 2014. Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. National Wildlife Federation and US Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?

By Andy Miller

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

A question I often hear is whether a particular weather event or condition is caused by climate change, and my answer is almost always no.  You can’t say that a specific tornado, torrential downpour or 100 degree plus day is caused by climate change.

So if the answer is that the weird weather isn’t caused by climate change, then why are we so concerned?  Before we get to that, let’s remember what climate is.  Climate is the long-term average of the weather.  As has been said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

Climate change means that the expected weather patterns are no longer what they used to be—that is, the long-term average weather is changing.  While the climate has changed in the past, now we are seeing changes that can only be explained by the rising level of greenhouse gases caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

The question about whether climate change has “caused” a particular weather event is like asking whether a baseball team scored on a specific play because it has a better win-loss record than its opponent. The win-loss record doesn’t determine the outcome of an individual play, but all those individual plays determine the win-loss record.  Climate is like a team’s win-loss record—it doesn’t determine a specific weather event, but rather all the individual events determine the weather patterns that make up climate. And with climate change, it’s becoming clearer that the losses are starting to stack up against us.

If climate doesn’t determine a specific weather event, why do we often hear that climate change is affecting the weather?  What we need to remember is that this is just shorthand for what the science is really telling us.  What the science is really saying is, “higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are trapping greater amounts of solar energy, which is causing a change in how the atmosphere and oceans circulate, the amount of moisture in the air, and the amount of ice, all of which are causing changes to weather patterns across the globe.”  That’s a lot to say, so you can see why we simply talk about climate change as the cause of these impacts.

The “impacts of climate change” (which we can use now that we know what that’s really saying) are discussed in considerable detail in the new National Climate Assessment that will be published in the coming weeks.  The assessment explains what changes we are seeing now, and what we expect to see in the coming years.  It shows why we’re concerned about climate change and its impacts. And most importantly, it explains why we need to take action now on climate change.

We are only starting to see the impacts of climate change.  To turn to our sports analogy again, it’s like we’re at the start of a new season.  It’s often hard to see which team is going to be the best after only a few games.  But as the season progresses, it will be easy to see which teams have prepared well by bringing in the best players and training hard before the season starts.

Likewise, taking action on climate change now means that we will be much better prepared to meet the challenges we face in the coming years.  EPA is taking action now on climate change, and that includes EPA’s scientists and engineers.  They are teaming up to develop the scientific information and tools that will help the nation and the world prepare a winning game plan to respond to climate change.

A team that waits to begin training until after it falls behind in the standings has no chance of winning, and waiting to act on climate change until the impacts are even worse is also a losing strategy.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

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Reposted: How EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change

Reposted from EPA’s Connect blog, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

By Lek Kadeli

As my EPA colleagues and I prepare to join millions of people from across the nation and around the globe to celebrate the environment on April 22, it’s a good time to remember how much we’ve accomplished together since the first Earth Day in 1970.

Forty-four years ago, it wasn’t hard to find direct evidence that our environment was in trouble. Examples of air pollution could be seen at the end of every tailpipe, and in the thick, soot-laden plumes of black smoke flowing from industrial smokestacks and local incinerators. Litter and pollution-choked streams were the norm, and disposing of raw sewage and effluent directly into waterways was standard practice. A major mid-western river famously ignited, sparking both awareness and action. The central theme of EPA’s Earth Day activities this year is Taking Action on Climate Change, echoing our commitment to meeting today’s greatest environmental challenge. And just like our predecessors did decades ago, we are supporting those actions with the best available science.

Dr. Chris Weaver, an EPA scientist currently on leave to serve as the Deputy Executive Director of U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, explains: “EPA has a major role to play in preparing the nation for change, through its critical responsibilities for ensuring clean air, clean water, and healthy communities and ecosystems. And EPA researchers, working in partnership with their colleagues in other Federal agencies and in the broader scientific community, are at the forefront of advancing understanding of the impacts of—and responses to—climate and related global change.”

Examples of that work include:

I invite you to read more about these and other examples in the 2014 Earth Day edition of our EPA Science Matters newsletter. It features stories on how EPA researchers and their partners are supporting Agency strategies and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Our amazing scientists and engineers are providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need for developing strategies to protect public human health and the environment in the face of a changing climate. Thanks to them, I am confident that future Earth Day events will celebrate how we were able to take action and meet the challenges of a changing climate.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Act On Climate: Become a Climate Citizen Scientist for Earth Day 2014

By Rebecca French

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (www.globalchange.gov).

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (www.globalchange.gov)

Did you know that everyone can participate in climate change research? Public participation in scientific research—“citizen science”—has a long and proven track record. And you and your family can join in on the fun!

Using data from a 114-year-old citizen science project, the Christmas Bird Count, EPA scientists have identified an important indicator of the impacts of climate change: on average, North American bird species have moved northward and away from coasts during the winter—some species some 200 to 400 miles north since the 1960s. I grew up in Connecticut, so that would be like my family moving our house to Canada.

Collecting information on this climate change impact would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who count birds every year. But this is just one of many climate citizen science projects.

One type of citizen science – volunteer environmental monitoring – can be an integral part of understanding the impacts of climate change. The EPA’s National Estuaries Program (NEP) is a network of voluntary, community-based programs that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems across the country. Estuaries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, so getting involved with your local NEP can make a real difference.

EPA also supports many citizen science programs through the Volunteer Water Monitoring Program, and EPA’s Region 2 office has launched a citizen science website with resources to support community-based citizen science projects for water, air, and soil.

The projects above can get you involved on a local scale, but there are also climate citizen science projects that go national and even global using a type of citizen science called “crowdsourcing.” Below are some of my favorite crowdsourcing citizen science projects that combine volunteers and the internet to build national data sets for climate change research:

  • Project Budburst, Nature’s Notebook and NestWatch all require you to get outdoors and record your observations of the natural world, such as when plants are flowering or birds are laying eggs. Kids will love these, so bring your family with you.
  • Participating in Old Weather or Cyclone Center can be done from your couch with a computer and an internet connection. The scientists behind these projects need human eyes to analyze images of ship’s logs or storms. When it comes to image analysis, the human eye is still the best technology out there.

You and your family can volunteer for these climate citizen science projects for Earth Day this year to act on climate. Your contributions will be used by scientists to understand climate change impacts on weather, plants and even birds’ nesting habits.

Take some time for Earth Day this year to contribute to climate change research and learn how these projects have partnered with the public to advance climate science. Maybe you will be inspired to create your own citizen science project. Oh yeah, and have fun too!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Rebecca French is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Green Roofs Keep Urban Climates Cooler

By Thomas Landreth

Image of a green roof

Green roof

From conversations I’ve had with friends in construction: roofing is tough work. Steep angles make for dangerous conditions, metal roofing is remarkably sharp, and whatever material you work with, it’s guaranteed to be heavy.

During the summer, heat adds an almost unbearable element. This can be especially bad in metropolitan areas, where ambient temperatures combine with heat coming off numerous nearby roofs, pavement, and other elements to create an “urban heat island.”

EPA researchers and partners recently published findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing how three types of roofing can help: “cool” (coated in a reflective material to eliminate heat buildup), green (vegetated), and hybrid (vegetated with reflective plants).  Hybrid roofs, which are a new concept and not yet available, would be constructed with light-colored plants that have higher reflectivity similar to cool roofs and also the advantages of green roofs, like water retention.

The authors found that any of these roofing options can have benefits by cooling urban heat islands. Thus, this helps to reduce the impacts of global climate change by cooling metropolitan regions.

Lead author Matei Georgescu, a sustainability scientist at Arizona State University, explains, “What we found for cool, green, and hybrid roofs is that they don’t just offset urban expansion—they can offset additional warming.”

Georgescu partnered with EPA scientists Philip E. Morefield, Britta G. Bierwagen, and Christopher P. Weaver, his co-authors on the study.

Through EPA’s Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios (ICLUS) project, researchers  had access to a wealth of modeled data focused on impacts from projected urban growth. Using these data, they explored the three methods of roofing designed to absorb less heat to compare and contrast benefits and trade-offs. What they discovered is that while all three  have positive environmental implications, green roofs have less heat-mitigating power than cool roofs (hybrid roofs cool at least as well as cool roofs alone), but cool roofs may mean that additional heating is needed during the winter in some areas.

Though roofing is a single component among major factors such as urban sprawl and carbon pollution, this study shows it can have an impact on reducing heat in large urban areas.

New roofing alternatives may offer an added component to innovative urban designs, new building styles and grid layouts created to offset urban heat islands. “Green cities” may not be a reality yet, but facets to such future cities are currently being considered and implemented. Interest in cooling down urban heat islands is growing and recently caught the attention of over 40 news outlets, including Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, the LA Times, and several international newspapers.    

Although roof installation may not get any easier, green and cool roofs may soon make American’s urban hotspots cooler.

About the author: Until last week, Thomas Landreth was a student services contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He recently accepted a new position with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Researchers Work to Protect Winter from a Changing Climate

By Katie Lubinsky 

EPA cookstove research

EPA cookstove research

I am not a winter person. In fact, I would prefer 80-degree weather all the time. However, as much as I complain and begrudgingly deal with cold weather, I understand its importance for ecosystems and the climate (and that I also cannot escape it unless I travel between hemispheres).

Many are asking whether we’ll lose some of our winter in the coming years.  Despite cold periods, researchers report that ‘warmer than usual’ days are outnumbering ‘colder than usual’ ones.  One pollutant that is contributing to rising temperatures is black carbon, an air pollutant that may not be as well known to the public as carbon dioxide.

Often referred to as soot, black carbon is made up of tiny, black-colored particles that are part of particulate matter (PM). The particles are emitted  from fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, and are the strongest light-absorbing component of PM. Black carbon particles can absorb a million times more energy than carbon dioxide while up in the atmosphere.

These particles have an enormous affect on climate change.  By directly absorbing light and heat from the sun and earth, black carbon can warm the atmosphere, and, in turn, directly raise temperatures. What’s more, the pollutant can also reduce the ability for snow and ice to reflect light, primarily at the Poles and Himalayas (the albedo effect); thus, causing the snow and ice to warm and essentially melt faster.

EPA researchers and grantees are studying the amount of black carbon being emitted from primary sources such as diesel engines as well as ways to reduce the impact of the pollutant on climate change. A recent EPA-funded report by the Health Effects Institute shows that the Agency’s emissions standards for new diesel engines reduce emissions, including black carbon.

Cookstoves, another high-emitting source of black carbon, are used in many developing countries for cooking food and heating. This results in harmful health effects from poor indoor air quality, particularly for women and children who spend significant time in smoky homes. EPA is testing new and improved cookstoves that reduce emissions and use less polluting fuels and alternative energy, like solar power.­

Progress to reduce black carbon has been made. One study indicates that there has been a 32 percent reduction in black carbon emissions from U.S. mobile sources between 1990 and 2005, according to the Report to Congress on Black Carbon (download at: http://www.epa.gov/blackcarbon/).

EPA’s black carbon research is making important contributions to international efforts to reduce this air pollutant.  Researchers are optimistic that by reducing black carbon, significant progress can be made in battling climate change.

This is good news for those who love winter, snow and outdoor winter sports like snowboarding and skiing. Though I will continue to brace myself before venturing outside in the cold months, I also appreciate the changing seasons and the research that is being conducted to reduce black carbon’s threat to our climate.

About the AuthorKatie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development in communications and wishes everyday was like summer.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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