University of Calgary

Air quality

Oct. 2, 2008

New air quality research project

The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) and the University of Calgary are proud to announce $173,495 in new funding over two years to support research that will advance Canada’s science and technology objectives while helping prepare for the impacts of climate change.
This funding will support the work of University of Calgary researchers, Hans Osthoff, Ann-Lise Norman, Todd Sutherland, and Peter Kusalik, who will be investigating sunlight-initiated decomposition reactions of nitrous and nitric acid deposited on the surfaces of snow and ice crystals. The results of this laboratory study are highly relevant to the Canadian North, where increases in population, development, traffic and pollution can be anticipated as a result of the changing climate.

“Observations in Antarctica have shown that sunlight efficiently dissociates nitric acid that has deposited on snow and ice,” says Hans Osthoff, assistant professor and lead researcher at the University of Calgary. “Among the products are nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are volatile gases. In the atmosphere, these compounds produce ozone, which is a greenhouse gas and a pollutant. Our work will contribute by studying these processes at a molecular level.”

The proposed research will use a combined experimental and theoretical approach to investigate yields of gas-phase NO and NO2 from irradiated frozen solutions of nitric acid, nitrous acid (a critical intermediate), and model organic nitrates. It will also be determined if isotope enrichment takes place during these processes. Isotope measurements are routinely used to track the physical origin of nitrogen oxides; knowledge of isotope fractionation processes is critical to interpret such data and to draw conclusions about the extent of this chemistry in the Polar Regions.

The funding is part of the $5.5 million recently awarded by CFCAS to promote research across Canada aimed at increasing knowledge and training in air quality, extreme weather, climate sciences or marine environmental prediction. The competition focused on research that could guide environmental policy or adaptation strategies. Funds were awarded to research on air quality, northern science, weather prediction and forecasting, climate change and water resources. Multidisciplinary collaborative research was encouraged, as well as partnerships with researchers in the health or social sciences, as appropriate.

“This project is a perfect fit for the goal of this competition, which focuses on research that will give decision-makers the scientific tools they need to face future challenges,” says Gordon McBean, chair of CFCAS. “This is the sort of information that must be built into sound public policy, innovation and strategic development, moving us forward into an era of mitigation and adaptation to climate change and associated factors.”

This is the Foundation’s seventh and final competition under its current mandate and is funded entirely from interest revenues of CFCAS investments. CFCAS has invested over $110 million across Canada over the past eight years to support a suite of research projects.