SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Great Salt Lake’s dry summertime lakebeds may be causing a chemical reaction that produces smog and spikes pollution and health problems for northern Utah residents, according to state researchers.
A team of scientists from the University of Utah, Weber State University, Utah State University and the Utah Division of Air Quality began measuring ozone levels this month over and around the Great Salt Lake.
They hope to pinpoint causes of summer pollution in heavily-populated areas along the Wasatch Front. They say the data will also help Utah prepare for stricter ozone standards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering.
Utah researchers are zeroing in on the lake after research three years ago found elevated ozone levels near the Great Salt Lake, according to a report in The Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1Cp6QQt ).
University of Utah atmospheric scientist John Horel said the lake plays a big role in wind patterns, with breezes pulling pollutants from cars, homes and businesses in nearby urban areas over the lake. The pollutants then react to intense sunlight reflected by the Great Salt Lake’s dry lakebeds, causing a chemical reaction that produces ozone pollution, a key producer of smog.
To measure ozone levels this summer, researchers are using 18 sensors stationed around northern Utah locations, and mobile pollution sensors attached to a TRAX light rail train car and researchers’ own vehicles.
Researchers drive the sensor-equipped cars along collection points around the Great Salt Lake to measure ozone levels.
Horel said the research team is also using balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, to launch sensors into the air.
“We are already seeing a lot of fascinating variations in the levels of pollutants, ones that we are certainly not understanding yet,” Horel said.
He cited recent readings that found the highest ozone levels near the University of Utah in the foothills of the mountains.
The research team plans to continue collecting ozone data above and around the lake through August.