This fall our 48 HMI students used state of the art scientific research equipment and worked with a total of 72 4th graders to measure black carbon and ozone levels around our schools and in our community. You can see maps of our three “treks” at Mt. Sherman, the Intermediate School and the HMI Campus. Our data is part of the overarching GO3 Project, where students at more than 100 schools in 25 countries around the world measure air pollutants and upload their data to a public database for graphing and display on Google Earth. Our measurements of ground level ozone and black carbon or “soot” were part of the GO3 Treks program, where students carry out “treks” of their own design to test hypotheses about sources and distributions of the primary pollutant black carbon and the secondary pollutant ozone. Together, GO3 students are learning and practicing the science of atmospheric chemistry, building the world’s first citizen database for air pollutants, and proposing solutions to global environmental problems.
Why do we care about black carbon and ozone?
Although ozone in the stratosphere protects us from harmful UV rays from the sun, ozone at ground level causes serious health effects such as asthma and damages crops and ecosystems. Ground-level ozone is formed in the atmosphere in the interaction of sunlight with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emitted by automobiles and industrial processes. Because of its toxicity, ozone is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of six Criteria Air Pollutants.
Black carbon or “soot” is the second leading cause of global warming and is estimated to be responsible for ~20% of the global warming and ~40% of glacier melting that has occurred to date. Because black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only about two weeks on average, control of black carbon emissions has been identified as the most cost effective way for slowing climate change in the near future. Black carbon also has serious health effects, including asthma and lung cancer.