Taking Air Sensors to Communities

By Joel Creswell

When I read about air quality in the news, it’s often described as a large scale problem where entire cities or states are being affected. While it’s important to think about these problems on a larger scale, I often wonder more about what’s happening in my neighborhood. Does the air I breathe while walking my dog down a busy street affect my health? What about if there is construction on my block or an industrial facility down the road? After all, what I really want to know about is what I’m being exposed to–something that information about regional air quality doesn’t fully capture.

Air Sensor with Briefcase that says citizen science toolbox EPA has a team of people working to make low-cost tools for community and personal air pollution monitoring more accessible. They have produced a multitude of resources to help people find the right tool to use and to make sure they’re using it correctly. These include the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists, air sensor performance evaluations, and a set of curriculum materials for teachers on air quality and climate change. EPA also recently awarded six community air monitoring grants to organizations around the country addressing the challenges of using low-cost tools to monitor local air quality.

two people learning about air sensors

Demonstrating air sensors at the 2016 Summit to Revitalize Vulnerable Communities.

Aside from grant funding, one of the best ways we can help individuals understand their exposure to air pollution is to meet with community leaders and help them address their air quality monitoring needs. I had just such an opportunity recently, when I attended the 2016 Summit to Revitalize Vulnerable Communities. My colleague Dan Bator, an Environmental Health Fellow for the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, and I demonstrated two low-cost monitoring technologies for airborne fine particulate matter. One was an air sensor for educational purposes only (pictured) that you can build yourself using these simple instructions and parts you can buy online. The other was the AirBeam, an off-the-shelf device developed by the non-profit group HabitatMap. Over the course of an evening, Dan and I spoke to numerous community leaders about how low-cost air sensors work and how they can measure air quality in communities and provide data to address environmental justice issues.

The problems described by community leaders varied. One was worried about the volume of traffic from a nearby port while children are going to and from school. One was concerned about industrial facilities. Another was interested in the impacts of a highway in her community. All were excited to learn that there were tools they could use to conduct their own air quality monitoring. These low-cost air quality monitors are not as accurate as the high-precision instruments used for regional and national monitoring, but the ability to monitor air quality at the local level empowers communities to address their concerns with real data.

Measuring my own air quality is important to me too. I built a particulate matter sensor using the instructions above. I’ve used it to measure the air inside my house and on my block. This gives me an idea of when pollution around me is high and when I should think about reducing my exposure, such as avoiding strenuous exercise outdoors. To help me understand my sensor readings and what actions to take, EPA has launched a pilot project to develop a scale for air sensors that provide data in short time increments. I also check the regional air quality forecast on AirNow.gov. Both can help me protect my health.

About the author: Joel Creswell is an environmental chemist and a AAAS Fellow on the EPA Office of Research and Development’s Innovation Team. Prior to coming to EPA, he worked on developing environmental trace metals analyzers for a scientific instrument company.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap logo with a holiday wreath in the center

Want to impress your relatives at the next holiday get-together? Wow them with some of these EPA science stories! Here’s the latest.

Final Report of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources
This week, EPA took an important step forward in our mission to protect clean drinking water. With the release of our final assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, EPA is providing a strong scientific foundation for states and local decision makers to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs or is being considered. Read more about the report in the blog EPA Releases Final Report of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources.

EPA Research Highlighted in New York Times
EPA biologist Dianne Nacci’s recent studies showing killifish adaptations to polluted water was featured in the New York Times article Rapid Evolution Saved This Fish from Pollution. Dr. Nacci co-authored of a study which found that over just a few decades, distinct populations of killifish independently developed similar genetic adaptations that make life possible in the most unlikely environments. Check out the study published last week in Science.

Compete to Improve Arsenic Sensing in Water
The Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition seeking innovative ways to improve arsenic sensing in water is now open! Led by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, EPA experts helped in the prize competition’s design and development.  Read more about the Competition in the blog We’re Sensing a Change in Water Monitoring: Introducing the Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition and then sign up to become a solver here.

EPA Researchers at Work
Do you ever wonder who’s behind all the amazing science at EPA? Meet some of our researchers! Check out who we are highlighting this week.

  • Worth Calfee, Ph.D. is a microbiologist working in EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. His research focuses on improving decontamination methods for decontamination, sampling, and waste management after a bioterrorism incident. Meet EPA Microbiologist Worth Calfee!
  • Lukas Oudejans, Ph.D. is a physical scientist working in EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. His research focuses on preparing cleanup options for the agency following a disaster incident. Meet EPA Physical Scientist Lukas Oudejans!

The Critical Role of Local Environmental Health and the Power of Partnerships
The role of local environmental health has always been important, but it’s becoming more critical as the challenges we face become increasingly complex. Through a Memorandum of Understanding, EPA and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) are working together to address these challenges. Check out this video of EPA Science Advisor Dr. Tom Burke and NEHA Executive Director David T. Dyjack discussing the new partnership at the signing last week.

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

Need a break from holiday shopping? Check out some of this cool EPA science! Here’s the latest.

Partnering to Protect the Environment and Public Health
This week, EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Environmental Health Association, an organization representing local environmental health practitioners. This partnership will strengthen ties between EPA and local environmental health practitioners. Read more about the new partnership in the blog Protecting the Environment and Public Health: The Critical Role of Local Environmental Health and the Power of Partnerships.

Planting the Seeds of Innovation
Through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, EPA awards contracts to help science and technology-based small businesses develop and commercialize environmental technologies. This year’s 13 recipients will develop solutions to a wide range of current environmental challenges, ranging from greener manufacturing of plastics to low-cost air sensors. Read more about the program in the blog Planting the Seeds of Innovation: EPA Awards Contracts to 13 Small Businesses to Support Environmental Research.

National Student Design Competition
As part of its People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award Program, EPA is seeking applications proposing to research, develop, and design solutions to real world challenges involving sustainability. To learn more about this student design competition, check out this request for application.

Science to Achieve Results Funding Opportunity
Through its Science to Achieve Results program, EPA is seeking applications for research on how pollution affects human health in the context of the total environment – built, natural, and social environments interacting together with inherent characteristics and interactions. For more information, check out this request for application.

Making a Visible Difference in Proctor Creek Watershed Through Community Engagement
EPA is working to bring focused attention and coordinated action in more than 50 environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities. This involves listening to community leaders and residents to understand their needs and then working with local, state, and other federal partners to leverage our collective resources in support of local goals. In this video, watch how we are working with Proctor Creek Watershed community by providing information and data.

Need more science? Check out some of these upcoming events at EPA.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Upcoming Events at EPA

By Michaela Burns

Our holiday gift to you—the last EPA events of the year.

Black Carbon’s Role in Global to Local Scale Climate and Air Quality
Friday, December 9th at 12:00 p.m. ET

Billowing black smokeBlack carbon—the sooty material emitted from combustion processes—can affect human health and the climate. In 2010, EPA awarded ten grants through the Science to Achieve Results program to universities and organizations to address Black Carbon’s role in global to local scale climate and air quality. Grantees focused on various black carbon research issues, such as better accounting for emissions and uncertainty, tracking how black carbon “ages” or reacts in the atmosphere, and better representing its ability to impact cloud droplet formation. ​ Highlights from the research findings will be summarized in this four-part webinar series. Register for the latest webinar here.

 

Using Systems Dynamics and Systems Modeling to Create Sustainable Solutions
Monday, December 12th at 4:00 p.m. ET

EPA is providing training on the theory, methods, and tools of systems thinking and system dynamics. These approaches are useful for modeling and analyzing socio-economic and environmental issues. This webinar will provide a basic understanding of systems dynamics, systems modeling, and the use of Causal Loop Diagrams to analyze real-world complex systems. The trainer, Andrea Bassi, is an internationally known thought leader on systems dynamics. Register for the webinar.

 

Small Drinking Water Systems
Tuesday, December 13th at 2:00 p.m. ET

a collection of pictures featuring small systemsAs part of the Science to Achieve Results grant program, EPA has funded two National Research Centers for Small Drinking Water Systems: The Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These centers will develop and demonstrate innovative technologies to better reduce, control, and eliminate groups of chemical or microbial contaminants in small water systems. This month’s small drinking water systems webinar will present some of the centers’ drinking water treatment technology research efforts. Register now to learn more.

 

The Toxic Substances Control Act Stakeholder Meeting – New Chemicals Review Program
Wednesday, December 14th at 9:00 am

test tubesEPA is holding a meeting to obtain input into the Agency’s implementation of new requirements for the New Chemicals Review Program under the Toxic Substances Control Act as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. EPA will describe its review process for new chemicals under the amended statute, as well as discuss issues, challenges, and opportunities that the Agency has identified in the first few months of implementation. Register to attend by Tuesday, December 13th.

 

Green Infrastructure Modeling Toolkit Webinar
Wednesday, December 14th at 3:00 p.m. ET

This webinar will present a toolkit consisting of five EPA green infrastructure models and tools, along with communication material that can  be used as a quick reference resource when making green infrastructure implementation decisions. Register now.

 

Systems View of Nutrient Management – Nutrient Recovery from Human Urine
Wednesday, December 14th at 2:00 p.m. ET

a water treatment facilityUrine is the primary source of phosphorus and nitrogen in municipal wastewater. Accordingly, it is important to consider for nutrient management. This webinar will cover new science on recovering nutrients from human urine. This includes issues of source separation in buildings, use at a research farm in Vermont, review of health issues, and factors influencing the environmental sustainability of nutrient management strategies. This webinar is an update on preliminary scientific research and demonstrations from the EPA funded Centers for Water Research on National Priorities Related to a Systems View of Nutrient Management. Register now for this webinar.

 

For more events head on over to the EPA research event page.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Protecting the Environment and Public Health: The Critical Role of Local Environmental Health and the Power of Partnerships

By Tom Burke, PhD, MPH

NEHA Executive Director David T. Dyjack and Tom Burke shake hands after signing the MOU

NEHA Executive Director David T. Dyjack and Tom Burke shake hands after signing the MOU.

As a former state environmental official and Deputy Health Commissioner, I know firsthand the important role that state and local government play in ensuring a clean environment and protecting public health. From safe water and air to cleaning up waste sites and beyond, environmental health practitioners at the local level are integral to keeping communities safe and healthy.

We as a nation have made tremendous progress in environmental protection over the past several decades. However, today’s environmental challenges – like climate change, air and water quality, and the built environment – are increasingly complex and can impact public health in numerous ways. To address them, we need to work together, and to do that, we need strong partnerships.

Today, I had the honor of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), a 5,000 member organization representing local environmental health practitioners and dedicated to advancing the environmental health and protection professional for the purpose of providing a healthful environment for all.

Through the MOU, NEHA and EPA’s Office of Research and Development will work together on issues that are important to us both – like making sure we have the science and tools needed to address today’s challenges. From partnering on webinars on topics like small drinking water systems to working together on educational materials and delivering critical science information and tools to those who need them, this partnership will strengthen ties between EPA and local environmental health practitioners. Importantly, this MOU will help connect us here at EPA with local environmental health professionals across the Nation who have boots-on-the-ground knowledge about the environmental health issues communities are facing.

The role of local environmental health has always been important, but it’s becoming more critical as the challenges we face become increasingly complex. This partnership will open the door for collaborations that will help us better understand and address these 21st century environmental challenges and strengthen public health protection now and into the future.

 

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. He served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health prior to coming to EPA. Before his time at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Burke was Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey and Director of the Office of Science and Research in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Planting the Seeds of Innovation: EPA Awards Contracts to 13 Small Businesses to Support Environmental Research

By Jim Johnson

We’ve all heard stories of how some of today’s biggest and most lucrative companies got their start in someone’s garage. With little more than the seeds of an idea and a passion to innovate, these small businesses grew to be classic examples of the American dream in action.

SBIR graphic identifierEPA is taking steps to help sow similar seeds in today’s fledgling startups, and advance environmental sustainability in ways that will boost prosperity nation-wide. EPA supports small businesses to develop innovative technologies through participation in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, awarding contracts to help science and technology-based firms develop and commercialize environmental technologies.

Now 13 companies have the opportunity to grow their own innovations with the help of contracts from EPA’s 2016 SBIR Phase I Solicitation. Each of these small businesses received funding of up to $100,000 to support six months of research for advancing a “proof of concept” for their proposed sustainable technology. This year’s recipients will develop solutions to a wide range of current environmental challenges, ranging from greener manufacturing of plastics to low-cost air sensors. The companies are eligible to apply for up to $300,000 of additional funding to further develop and commercialize their technologies through future SBIR Phase II Awards.

I am deeply excited by the potential exhibited by these small businesses, and I look forward to seeing the innovative environmental technologies that they are able to develop with their SBIR Phase I contracts. The seeds for the next revolutionary technologies are all around us – with a little help, they can grow into the environmental breakthrough of tomorrow.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Happy December! Here’s a quick recap of the latest in EPA science.

The Freshwater Cycle in the Marshall Islands
EPA research hydrologist Dr. Bill Shuster recently traveled to the Marshall Islands as an Embassy Science Fellow. He supported the US embassy there on science and technology matters and shared his scientific expertise to improve the island’s freshwater resource management. Learn more about his experience in the blog The Freshwater Cycle in the Marshall Islands.

Aquatic Robotics: Underwater Glider Helps Monitor Great Lakes Water Quality
EPA’s autonomous Slocum glider, the Nokomis, recently returned from a 40-day deployment in which it traveled over 1000 kilometers across Lake Superior collecting water quality data. The glider provides high resolution observations that complement our other Great Lakes science initiatives. Read more about the Nokomis in the blog Aquatic Robotics: Underwater Glider Helps Monitor Great Lakes Water Quality.

EPA Brings a Low-Cost Air Sensor Network to Memphis
As part of the CitySpace Air Sensor Network project, EPA researchers installed and field test a city-wide-network of low-cost sensors to measure air pollution across the greater Memphis, Tennessee area. The goal of the project is to examine the value of using a low-cost air sensor network to estimate the distribution of local air quality conditions. Read more about the project in the blog EPA Brings a Low-Cost Air Sensor Network to Memphis.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Freshwater Cycle in the Marshall Islands

By Christina Burchette

At just three to six feet above sea level and surrounded by the rising tides of the North Pacific, citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) are vulnerable to some of the most impending climate change impacts. They’re threatened by limited freshwater resources, persistent drought conditions, and the rising sea level. The need and desire to safeguard against these impacts is strong, but due to their very isolated location, there aren’t a lot of resources or expertise readily available to help the islanders adapt to their changing environment.

A team of people (an a dog!) pose for a photo

Dr. Bill Shuster (middle row, sitting) and the embassy staff. Photo credit: US Embassy – Majuro

Research hydrologist Dr. Bill Shuster went on detail as an Embassy Science Fellow to the US Embassy on Majuro, the most populous atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, to support the embassy on science and technology matters and share his scientific expertise to improve the island’s freshwater resource management.

The people of Majuro rely on a limited number of freshwater sources: a reservoir fed by runoff from the airport runways, freshwater lenses (freshwater that floats on a saltwater table), tanks that collect runoff from roofs, imported water, and volume from reverse-osmosis units that convert seawater to potable water. Since the islands are low-lying, the reservoirs, lenses, and runoff tanks can become polluted or structurally damaged by over-wash of saltwater during storms. In addition, extreme drought conditions mean that managing and monitoring freshwater gains and losses are all critical to improving the island’s water security and drought resilience.

To help the island take steps toward security and resilience, Dr. Shuster worked through the Embassy with local government agencies, students, and residents to identify gaps in water resources data and barriers to filling these gaps. He also led a team of students and RMI Environmental Protection Authority staff to measure and understand the role that the soils play in the local freshwater cycle.

a sandy beach

A sandy shore on the west side of the Majuro atoll.

What they found is that different areas of the island yielded different results about water quality. For instance, Dr. Shuster and colleagues showed how the freshwater lens located in the urban, east side of Majuro had little freshwater due to a lack of recharge, and any pumping would have drawn sea water in. On the other hand, the more productive freshwater lens on the rural, west side of the island, was situated under deep soils, allowing for freshwater recharge and making the lens a viable freshwater supply. Yet, the viability of this lens was threatened by over-pumping, saltwater intrusion, and pollution leaching in from agricultural development.

After gathering this sort of data, Dr. Shuster worked with staff at the Majuro and Sewer Company to identify gaps in an overall water balance model to plan for drought management and adaptation and develop strategies to manage and close data gaps.

While his trip to the islands was only seven weeks long, Dr. Shuster and his colleagues’ research efforts brought awareness to the island’s water resource issues and will help residents make data-based decisions that contribute to water security and a sustainable future on this remote atoll.

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Aquatic Robotics: Underwater Glider Helps Monitor Great Lakes Water Quality

By Tom Hollenhorst and Paul McKinney

four people stand around the glider, preparing to launch it into the water.

Preparing to deploy the Nokomis

It’s always exciting to be on a boat heading out under the Duluth lift bridge towards the middle of Lake Superior, but last month’s trip was especially thrilling. Our mission was to rendezvous with EPA’s autonomous Slocum glider, the Nokomis.

The glider was returning to the Duluth area after a nearly 40-day deployment in which it travelled over 1000 kilometers across Lake Superior. Acquired in 2014, the glider complements the EPA’s Great Lakes science initiatives by providing high resolution observations of temperature and concentrations of chlorophyll-a, colored dissolved organic matter, and suspended matter. These are important measurements because they tell us about the relative health and productivity of the lake.  These types of data are especially useful if they are collected continuously over a period of time across an area of interest, like the data collected by gliders. And even more useful if the measurements are made in conjunction with other monitoring efforts and data (including remote sensing data).  In addition to continuously collecting data every half second, the gliders can also be out in the lake during storms and adverse conditions, when we wouldn’t want to put lives at risk.

Named after Joshua Slocum, the first person to single-handedly sail around the world, the glider propels itself by changing its buoyancy and adjusting the position of its forward battery pack. The buoyancy changes cause it to rise and fall, and its wings turn the vertical motion into forward motion. This method of propulsion is very battery efficient, allowing the glider to perform extraordinarily long missions. In fact, a Slocum Glider piloted by students at Rutgers University crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. That trip took 220 days. As a result of its unique saw-toothed path, our glider, Nokomis completed over 7000 vertical profiles as it made its way back towards Duluth this summer.

a small yellow craft glides along the water, in the foreground a large ship

The Nokomis (yellow) in action.

Throughout its mission, Nokomis regularly sent in snippets of the data it was collecting while receiving updated instructions via the satellite phone in its tail. The regular contact provided our team opportunities to pilot the glider towards areas of interest that we had observed in satellite images of the lake’s surface. By combining the remotely sensed data with the high resolution glider data, we expect to increase our understanding of exchange processes between nearshore and offshore areas of the lake. The work is a collaboration with EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office and is part of its collaborative science monitoring initiative.

 

To learn more about our glider work and the recent post-mission recovery, check out the Duluth News Tribune article Gliders provide in-depth scientific data on Lake Superior.

 

About the Authors:

Tom Hollenhorst is an Ecologist at EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division.  He’s been studying the landscapes and watershed in and around the Great lakes for nearly two decades.  He’s especially interested in understanding watershed-nearshore-offshore connections and the transfer of energy and nutrients between them.

Paul McKinney is a National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral research associate based at EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division. His research is focused on understanding the processes linking nearshore and offshore areas of the Great Lakes.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Brings a Low-Cost Air Sensor Network to Memphis

By Michaela Burns

air sensors on top of building overlooking memphis

Sensors installed at the Memphis Area Transit Authority facilities.

Outdoor air quality can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within the same city. All sorts of things can contribute to this variation, including traffic patterns, local industry, and even the way air moves between buildings.

Communities are increasingly interested in learning more about what pollutants are in the air.  Knowing about the air quality in your community can help you decide what actions to take to protect your health. That is where new air sensors come into play. They are low-cost, highly portable, and offer new ways to measure air quality in and around a community.

However, this new monitoring technology may not be as precise as more traditional technology used by state and federal governments for regulation. How can scientists use data from these sensors, even if they are not as accurate as traditional models?

To help answer this question, EPA is collaborating with the Shelby County Health Department and the Memphis Area Transit Authority to conduct the CitySpace Air Sensor Network project. EPA researchers will install and field test a city-wide-network of low-cost sensors to measure air pollution across the greater Memphis area, which includes counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

The goal of the CitySpace project is to examine the value of using a low-cost air sensor network to estimate the distribution of local air quality conditions and how emerging technologies perform in this type of research.

In October and November, researchers installed air sensor pods at locations in the greater Memphis area based on the input of local communities and other local stakeholders.  Sensors are located in neighborhoods, industrial areas, and rural settings. The sensors use emerging technologies that allow environmental data to be measured and instantaneously streamed to a secure EPA website.

All of these sensors will collect data on particulate matter (PM), a common air pollutant, and meteorological conditions such as temperature, humidity, and wind patterns.

Want to know one of the best parts of the study? A majority of the air sensors are 100 percent solar powered and self-sustainable.  They won’t require a lot inspection or maintenance, so scientists can focus on reviewing the data.

Hopefully, the work won’t stop in the Memphis metropolitan area. The success of this study could encourage other cities to use low-cost air sensor networks in evaluating local pollution.  Through air research efforts like this, EPA is helping to fulfill its mission to protect air quality.

Learn more about the City Space project:

Read the press release.

Read our factsheet on the CitySpace project.

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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