Scientists to study ozone near Lake Michigan

Wisconsin State Farmer
NOAA physical scientist Brad Pierce.

MADISON - For several years, air quality managers have identified elevated levels of ozone in the Sheboygan area. It remains an atmospheric mystery since high levels of ozone are usually associated with larger cities.

It is also an issue of great concern to public health officials because ozone is a known respiratory irritant that poses health threats to vulnerable populations, especially the young and the elderly, and those with breathing problems like asthma. 

Lake Michigan shoreline as seen from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

In an effort to unravel the mystery and understand how pollution moves along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) researchers have joined an atmospheric study over Sheboygan and other cities along the lake's coast.

The goal of the Lake Michigan Ozone Study (LMOS 2017) is to understand how wind currents can transport pollution from one location to another - especially ozone, which poses human health risks when found near the Earth's surface.

The data collected will also be integrated into ozone models used by air quality managers at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO), and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

"We want to help improve these models and better predict when ozone events will happen, and in turn, protect health," says Brad Pierce, a NOAA physical scientist who is stationed at UW-Madison and is leading the LMOS campaign. 

A NOAA ship equipped with EPA instruments used to collect nearshore and offshore measurements.

The study represents a $1.3 million multi-agency partnership that includes NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and other organizations and universities. 

"The plan is to collect data that will give us a comprehensive profile of the atmosphere along the shore of Lake Michigan," says Tim Wagner, SSEC assistant researcher.

Wagner oversees the research efforts for a suite of ground-based instruments, known as the SSEC Portable Atmospheric Research Center, or SPARC. SPARC is a customized, 17-foot trailer equipped with an array of sensitive tools used to measure the atmosphere, many of which were designed and built at SSEC.

NASA aircraft equipped with remote sensing instruments used to collect atmospheric data from Zion, Illinois, to Sheboygan.

Data gathered from the SPARC instruments at the study site will help construct a picture of the atmosphere over Sheboygan and surrounding areas through wind and temperature measurements, and help resolve different types of particles like ice, dust and other aerosols. 

"By understanding the atmospheric structure, it gives context to the other data that are part of the whole campaign," says Wagner. "It's an important piece of the puzzle to understanding what's happening up there."