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

New Aerosol Map Will Improve Air Quality Monitoring, Forecasting in a Changing Climate

CIRES, partners receive NOAA funding to develop global map

As wildfires and dust storms in a changing climate create health challenges for people worldwide, NOAA has announced funding for a University of Colorado Boulder-led project that promises to help improve air quality monitoring and forecasting.

Currently, global observations of aerosols—tiny airborne particles which can cause health problems—are sparse, leading to uncertainties in climate models. The new project aims to produce a better global map of aerosols and improve NOAA’s aerosol monitoring and forecasts.

CIRES and NOAA researcher Mariusz pagowski. credit: susan cobb/ cires

“Aerosols are also critical to the Earth’s radiative balance and clouds, thus having a major impact on weather and climate,” said Mariusz Pagowski, a CIRES scientist who studies aerosols at NOAA’s Global Systems Division.

Large wildfires blazing in the western United States, storms blowing dust over Europe and Asia, and smog in India and China have people here and around the world talking about air pollution—especially tiny particles or aerosols from fires known as PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter. According to the U.S. EPA, PM2.5, which can become lodged in lungs and exacerbate health problems, is the single most critical factor affecting deaths from air pollution.

The new project is funded through a $495,000 grant from the NOAA Research MAPP Program. Pagowski and his team will use the grant to produce a reliable global map of different aerosol types in the atmosphere. To do this, the researchers will develop novel methods for combining observations with models, a process known as data assimilation. Their goal is to address deficiencies of the current approaches and improve NOAA’s aerosol forecasts.As the changing climate and growing human population are expected to worsen wildfire seasons and pollution in general, improving NOAA’s aerosol monitoring and forecasting will provide information vital for public health and environmental decision-makers.

“This research will benefit scientists involved in aerosol forecasting, as well as the climate, health, and environmental communities,” Pagowski said.

The project’s co-investigators include Arlindo da Silva, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office; Sarah Lu, a research associate at the State University of New York at Albany; and Georg Grell, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Global Systems Division of the Earth Systems Research Laboratory. This project is one of five in the area of data assimilation-based climate monitoring funded by the Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program in the NOAA Climate Program Office.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Banner image: William Putman, NASA Goddard


Karin Vergoth
CIRES Communications
Susan Cobb
NOAA Global Systems Division Scientific Communications Lead