Scientists study solving Utah's smog problem

Monday , June 15, 2015 - 4:10 PM

Summertime ozone is a confounding problem that’s only further convoluted by Wasatch Front geography.

Scientists from the Utah Division of Air Quality and various state universities are collaborating to better understand the ozone influence coming from one of the region’s most iconic water bodies.

“Ozone formation here in this valley has been monitored for a number of years, and it’s very complex — it’s hard to predict where ozone levels are going to be high and low,” said Bryce Bird, director of the DAQ. “One of the factors we hypothesize is the presence of the Great Salt Lake.”

Ozone pollution forms when urban emissions mix and react with sunlight. The pollutant causes summertime smog in Utah. It also causes respiratory problems for sensitive groups, especially children.

“Understanding the chemistry involved is important,” Bird said, “but our models aren’t predicting why (ozone) should form and how it should form.”

Scientists suspect the Great Salt Lake might be having a push and pull effect on ozone formation and distribution along the Wasatch Front.

Reflective areas, like water bodies and white beaches, might help cook up more ozone. In the summer, the lake stays cool while surrounding land heats up. That interaction regulates wind patterns and could move pollutants around the region.

On Monday, teams from Weber State University, Utah State University and the University of Utah launched their summer-long research project. They’ll set up meteorological stations throughout the lake and collect air samples, both at lake level and throughout the air column using balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles.

John Sohl, a professor at Weber State University and director of the HARBOR atmospheric monitoring club, said his team will run an airboat to measure ozone in a line across the lake from east to west. The HARBOR team will also run an aerostat, or tethered radar balloon, from the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

The research teams are calling their ozone project “SO3S,” for “Summer Ozone Study.” Utah DAQ will use $65,000 for the project from a $1 million fund appropriated by the state legislature for state-specific air quality research.

“That will be augmented by additional funding and resources the universities will be bringing,” Bird said. “Our scientists will focus on modeling and the existing air monitoring network, so it’s a perfect collaboration opportunity.”

For more information on the SO3S project, visit the Weber State University HARBOR site. To monitor current DAQ 3-day ozone information, visit their forecast website

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or Follow her on Twitter @LeiaLarsen or find her on

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