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Summer Road Trip in Store for UCR Engineers

Summer Road Trip in Store for UCR Engineers

(August 1, 2001)

It's August, so people are piling into the car to touch the spectacular crystals inside Arizona's Petrified Forest, or view the dramatic red rock rainbows at Arches National Park in Utah. But a handful of tourists from the University of California, Riverside will be more interested in checking out the tailpipe on the car ahead of them, than the eye-popping scenery.

The Western Governors Association selected CE-CERT (College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology) to develop "emissions inventories" at eight national parks in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. The $50,000 contract asks UCR engineers to create a picture of how much air pollution is produced in each park, and what the sources are - everything from cars and boats to campfires and forest fires.

The parks involved are: Petrified Forest and Glen Canyon in Arizona; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion in Utah; and Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.

"We were selected because we have some unique capabilities in this area," said James M. Lents, adjunct professor and manager of environmental policy studies, and the principal investigator on the project. The work requires CE-CERT to forecast air pollution emissions, based on the numbers of cars entering the parks, the numbers of boats and jet-skis on the lakes and the numbers of restaurants inside, among other emission sources. But it won't be as easy as running the standard numbers.

"The parks are different," Lents said. "People drive, work, and play differently than they do elsewhere, and even things like the terrain and altitude have an impact on emissions. It's important to understand these differences to produce an accurate picture of emissions in these parks, and you need an accurate picture to understand how to protect these areas."

The contract was awarded Aug. 3, and a UCR team that includes engineering students is now packing for a 16-day tour of eight National Parks, to capture images of the kinds of cars, where they are from, the numbers of restaurants, and even the prevalence of campfires. They are taking their cameras, but when they get back the pictures are not going to be of red-tinged desert vistas, but the back-ends of cars parked in parking lots.

"From there we can tell the mix of cars, trucks and RVs, the state of origin, and whether they are pulling a trailer or a boat," Lents said. "All of those things effect emissions."

Resources at CE-CERT

Mitch Boretz, administrative analyst, (909) 781-5785

James Lents, principal investigator, (909) 781-5742

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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