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UCR to help clear the air in national parks

UCR to help clear the air in national parks

(January 30, 2001)

The University of California, Riverside has been tapped by the Western Regional Air Partnership (WRAP) as headquarters for a new $1 million Regional Modeling Center that will help clear the haze from views around the jagged edge of the Grand Canyon or from in front of Yosemite's famous "Half Dome."

Scientists at the Bourns College of Engineering-Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) will use sophisticated computer models to help Western states comply with the Clean Air Act's mandate to improve visibility in National Parks and wilderness areas, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

This Regional Modeling Center at UCR will be the common scientific resource for a number of Western states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as for tribal nations in the region. The Center will also work with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, in fact, provided the funding to the WRAP for this project.

Road dust, smoke from fires, vehicle exhaust and industrial pollution are all part of the curtain of haze that can obscure the nation's best views of pristine natural settings. This is not just an environmental problem, but an economic one for states that rely on tourism.

"Recognizing both the aesthetic and economic value of unimpaired views, Western states and tribes have embarked on an ambitious program to address the problem," said Patrick Cummins. He is co-project manager of the WRAP, a voluntary coalition of federal state and tribal leaders in the Western U.S. working together to improve visibility in wilderness areas on the Colorado Plateau.

CE-CERT, located two miles from the main UCR campus, will hold training sessions for the WRAP members in the best ways to boost air quality and visibility in a particular area.

"We will run air quality models to simulate haze throughout the U.S.," said Gail Tonnesen, project director and manager of environmental modeling at CE-CERT. "We can use the computer models to test the cost-effectiveness and the benefits of each strategy for improving visibility." She said the computer modeling allows scientists to choose the strategies that are most likely to succeed in a real-world setting.

"The states and tribes have discretion to adopt a particular plan for improving air quality, but they will be using the science from our model to inform that decision," Tonnesen said.

UCR has a history of research expertise in both the chemistry and computer modeling aspects of air pollution. James Lents, CE-CERT's manager of environmental policy studies and a co-director of this project, has 27 years of regulatory experience as head of the Colorado Air Quality program and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

CE-CERT carries out $6 million in research each year funded by sources as diverse as the Environmental Protection Agency and Ford Motor Company. The center's mission is to play the role of "honest broker" between private industry and government agencies on the topic of air pollution.

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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