Houston, TEXAS — The Environmental Protection Agency budget, which was passed by Congress this week, includes $2 million for the University of Houston to research and develop an ozone simulation and forecasting model of the Houston and Gulf Coast region.
Using supercomputers and sophisticated mathematical modeling techniques, the UH researchers, led by Tony Haymet, UH professor of chemistry, will look at the complex issues of ozone production and transport, and will examine over 150 other air-borne chemicals in the categories of volatile organics, the oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulates to determine their production and transportation for this particular region and weather systems over extended periods of time.
“I am extremely pleased that the University of Houston and the Greater Partnership of Houston are collaborating in efforts to complete a serious study of the air quality in Houston. Houstonians deserve to know that any mandates from the EPA are based on sound science not political science. I look forward to seeing the results of University of Houston’s research,” said U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.
In announcing the new initiative, UH System Chancellor and UH President Arthur K. Smith said, “The ability to bring to bear the best research minds and equipment to help solve real community problems is part of the mission of an urban research university. We are very pleased to be able to lead this effort for cleaner air for our city working in consultation with the Greater Houston Partnership, and we thank Congressman Tom DeLay and the EPA for their support of our city and our University in this important endeavor.”
The research team is coming together through the UH Texas Learning and Computation Center. Dr. Haymet will be working with top mathematicians, including UH professor Roland Glowinski, who holds the French National Medal of Science; chemical engineers, including UH professors and National Academy of Engineering members Neal Amundson and Dan Luss; UH Clear Lake professor Jim Lester, head of the UH/UHCL Environmental Studies Institute; and other U.S. institutions.
“All the current models used for ozone simulation are based on the models developed for Los Angeles in the 1970s,” said Arthur Vailas, UH Vice President for Research and Intellectual Property Management. “This new initiative will bring experts from all of these fields to develop the appropriate model that specifically characterizes the Gulf Coast area, including the emissions from our factories and automobiles, changes in weather patterns, humidity, and our natural resources, such as swamps and bayous. This program will model ozone and air quality transport and how it changes over a given day, month, year.”
Vailas says that Houston currently is one of the most studied cities in the country with more environmental sensors per square mile than any other city. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and federal agencies have funded a major inter-institutional study to collect data over time from these sensors.
“With the help of collaborators at organizations like the Greater Houston Partnership, and other Universities state and worldwide, our efforts will add new mathematical algorithms and computer codes to predict the formation of both ozone and fine particulate aerosols which will be the focus of future regulatory action, and of great concern to Houston,” said Haymet. “Coupled with specific data about Houston weather and the chemical reactions occurring in the air, ozone concentrations for specific episodes in 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2000 will be calculated for both the actual conditions existing at the time, and for a variety of reduced emissions, which TNRCC and others suggest Houston should achieve by 2003 and beyond,” Haymet added.
“We are hearing from cities around the world, including Paris and Moscow, interested in this research,” Vailas said.
“Ultimately our goal is to help make better predictions on the environmental quality of our community and to help community leaders determine which measures to take to improve Houston’s overall air quality,” he said. “Our challenge is to have scientifically sound models that are ready in time to assist our city, county, and state decision makers as they develop the overall plan to improve our air quality. It is an ideal example of basic sciences directly serving the public need. We are very pleased to play our part in this critical effort, and grateful that Congressman DeLay is such a strong advocate for bringing good science to solve complex problems,” Vailas concluded.