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Behind the Wheel or in the Cockpit, Researcher Helps Marylanders Breathe Easier

Mobile Monitoring Tracks Greenhouse Gases and Other Pollutants

By Maryland Today Staff

air monitoring equipment rides atop truck

An SUV outfitted with a range of air-monitoring sensors allows atmospheric and oceanic science tools down a Maryland road. Professor Russell Dickerson and students use the mobile lab to track sources and types of greenhouse gases around the state of Maryland.

Image courtesy of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

High in the air and at ground level, atmospheric and oceanic science Professor Russ Dickerson, his colleagues and graduate students are tracking culprits that usually can’t be seen, but have serious impacts on our climate and human health alike.

Take methane, which rises from landfills, swamps, leaky gas pipes and livestock. It’s hundreds of times less abundant than carbon dioxide in the air, but in equal measures, its heating effect on Earth’s climate exponentially outstrips the more common greenhouse gas—and its concentration is skyrocketing.

Then there’s ozone, a gas that blocks harmful radiation at high altitudes, but can damage our respiratory tracts and often impacts marginalized communities, which disproportionally live near factories and power plants.

Using both a customized aircraft and a rolling laboratory known as NOAA’s ARC (or Air Resources Car, operated in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, or NOAA), Dickerson is tracking these and other pollutants to help state and federal agencies regulate emissions and shape clean-air policy.

He’s also part of a new Grand Challenges Team Project Grant that will use Maryland Civil Air Patrol aircraft outfitted with University of Maryland-built sensors to find methane sources so they can be remediated.

Dickerson called the new Chevy Suburban-based mobile lab a particularly powerful tool for discovering what’s in the atmosphere and where it comes from.

“We can drive down every street in Baltimore and try to find hot spots, and say, ‘What have you got, where did it come from, how do we fix it?’—and target them for engineering fixes.”

Video produced by Leslie Miller



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