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Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Research

Research in Action

Emissions Modeling Research

forest fire

Issue

Six common pollutants are found in the environment from three major sources: man-made, vegetation, and natural sources. Only man-made pollutants can be managed and controlled directly. However, pollutants from all three sources need to be understood and estimated since pollutants from these sources can interact with each other in the atmosphere and form other, more toxic, pollutants.
EPA research involves estimating pollutants from a variety of sources, including:

  • Crops in growth phase (corn, wheat, cotton production)
  • Crops in harvest and post-harvest phases (sugarcane, field burning)
  • Vegetation (trees, shrubs)
  • Grassland burning
  • Lightning and fires (accidental and intentional) in wildlands
  • Wind-blown dust in desert areas
  • Prescribed burning in managed forests

Action

Pollutants from man-made, natural and vegetation sources are estimated by EPA scientists using data from maps, models, satellites, field measurements, laboratory studies, and other sources.

  • NASA satellites are used to locate fire activity in space and time
  • Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, and NASA satellites are used by EPA scientists to map land use, crop types, and vegetation.
  • Laboratory and field measurements of pollutants are analyzed by EPA scientists to estimate emission factors and correlate pollutant quantities to activities.
  •  Data from maps, satellites, field measurements, laboratory studies, and other sources are used by EPA scientists to develop state-of-science computer models that can estimate U.S. pollutant concentrations on an hourly basis as well as ways pollutants interact with each other and are influenced by weather and climate.

Results and Impacts

EPA scientists have developed detailed pollutant maps of the U.S., and interactive models which predict how pollutants move from their source through the atmosphere and eventually settle in the environment. The models use emissions data along with weather and climate data to give researchers a complete picture of how chemicals will behave in the atmosphere. This atmospheric modeling research provides important information for decision makers in protecting human health.

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