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Stony Brook professors to lead expeditions measuring air pollution

Stony Brook University professors will lead expeditions to

Stony Brook University professors will lead expeditions to measure air pollution in the metropolitan area and the Arctic, officials said Monday. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Stony Brook University educators will spearhead a pair of federally funded scientific research expeditions, utilizing sophisticated planes to measure air pollution in the metropolitan area and the Arctic, officials announced Monday.

The flights, scheduled to start in 2022, will be used to better understand the atmospheric chemistry and pollutant levels affecting human health in a densely populated 300-mile region encompassing New York City, Long Island, areas upstate and Connecticut, as well as a remote location over the Arctic Ocean.

The projects are funded through grants totaling $5.8 million from the federal National Science Foundation.

"We hope to see this evolution of chemical processes and better understand how they lead to bad air quality in the area," said John Mak, a professor with Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, who will lead the metropolitan project with scientists from six other universities.

The Greater NY Oxidant, Trace gas, Halogen, and Aerosol Airborne Mission, or GOTHAAM, will study air quality, chemistry and pollutants of the metropolitan region using the science foundation's Hercules C-130 research aircraft.

The area has a complex atmosphere comprised of urban emissions, including gases and aerosols, along with pollutants from inland forests and coastal waters. Despite efforts to reduce air pollution, the metropolitan region has the second worst air quality — often known as urban smog — in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Long Island region, Mak said, is key to the research.

"What we get over Long Island in terms of air quality is actually different in composition than what New York City gets, even if we are downwind, because that air mass ages and changes chemically," he said. "Long Island and the Long Island Sound has more frequent high air pollution events than even New York City."

The C-130 will fly over the region for approximately 120 hours — spanning days and nights — during the summer of 2022. The plane will be equipped with specialized instruments to measure different compounds in the air.

The three-year study, which will include meetings and training programs with elected officials and residents, is funded with a $3.5 million grant.

The $2.3 million Chemistry in the Arctic-Clouds, Halogens, and Aerosols project, or CHACHA, is focused on understanding the atmospheric chemistry above the Arctic Ocean, which is covered by six feet of ice that expels sea salt into the atmosphere.

Two planes — Purdue University's Airborne Laboratory Atmospheric Research and the University of Wyoming's King Air — will take airborne measurements from chemicals around the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as well as Alaska's North Slope regions, officials said.

"The Earth's atmosphere in polar regions is very unique," said Paul Shepson, dean of the Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, who will lead the arctic excursion and fly one of the planes.

"And what we are trying to do with this study," Shepson said, "is understand how much that strange chemistry is affected by sea ice and how much it will change with climate change and the melting of the sea ice."

The flights will take place from February 2022 to April 2022.

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