Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Joost de Gouw

Research Interests

I am a Professor and Fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. My main interests are the sources and chemical transformations of organic compounds in the atmosphere, the formation of ozone and secondary organic aerosol, and the impact that these processes have on air quality, climate change, and human health. To study these issues, I use measurements of organic compounds by mass spectrometry and gas chromatography. I am also interested in indoor air quality and the environmental effects of energy production and use at present and in the future.

Current Research

Urban Air Quality

I have studied the processes that determine urban air quality in cities as diverse as Boston, New York City, Houston, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Beijing, and Shanghai. Measurements of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were used to determine their emission sources and chemical transformations. An important finding was that the use of chemical products such as cleaners, personal care products, solvents, etc. has now surpassed motor vehicles as the dominant source of VOCs in urban air. The implications of these findings are studied in the laboratory and field, and through modeling and instrument development.

Atmosphere-Biosphere Interactions

The largest source of VOCs worldwide is from vegetation. I have studied the effects of these emissions on the atmosphere, including measurements of emission fluxes, chemical transformations, formation of secondary organic aerosol, and to what extent these processes are affected by anthropogenic emissions. We are currently studying the oxidation of monoterpenes in the laboratory.

Indoor Air Quality

The chemical composition of indoor air has received far less attention than the composition of the atmosphere. We have made measurements inside three different building on the campus of CU Boulder, including a classroom, art museum, and athletic center. We have found that ambient air, the off-gassing of materials and people themselves are important sources of VOCs indoors. The extent to which these VOCs can be mixed out of buildings depends on their vapor pressure and solubility.

Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Production

Since the mid 2000s, the U.S. has seen a strong increase in the production of natural gas and crude oil from shale formations thanks to the development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Associated with this industrial activity are emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, ozone precursors such as nitrogen oxides and VOCs, and air toxics such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide. Also, ozone formation from these emissions has been observed in the winter in basins in Utah and Wyoming. I have studied emissions of methane and air pollutants associated with the production of crude oil and natural gas in area ranging from North Dakota to Texas in the Western U.S., to Pennsylvania in the East. I am currently studying trends in the emissions of NOx and methane using data from the satellite-based Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TropOMI).

The Flatirons in Boulder Mountain Park on a clean day

The Flatirons in Boulder Mountain Park on a clean day. Photo: Joost de Gouw

Honors and Awards

  • Honorable Mention, Colorado Governor's Award for High-Impact Research, 2018
  • Recipient of “Make Our Planet Great Again” grant est. by President Macron (declined), 2018
  • Clarivate Analytics (formerly Web of Science) Highly Cited Researcher, cross-field, 2018
  • Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher, Geosciences, 2017
  • Co-recipient, Outstanding Paper Award, NOAA Oceanic & Atmospheric Research, 2017
  • Co-recipient, Colorado Governor's Award for High-Impact Research, 2014
  • Editor of JGR Atmospheres, 2009-2013
  • Co-recipient, Colorado Governor's Award for High-Impact Research, 2012
  • CIRES Outstanding Performance Award, 2007
  • Recipient of FOM Springplank Fellowship, 1998