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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah on Monday unveiled a sophisticated computer modeling tool that it says for the first time will track hourly greenhouse gas emissions in Salt Lake City — right down to the source.
Called "Hestia," the tool was paired up with mobile instruments mounted on TRAX trains and stationary monitoring devices in one of the longest running efforts to collect data on carbon dioxide emissions.
The extensive carbon dioxide mapping puts the Salt Lake City area in an elite class, joining just three other geographic regions in the country that have undergone such an extensive analysis.
"This level of detail is not available anywhere else," said John Chun-Han Lin, an associate professor in the university's Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
Hestia allows those in the air quality arena to drill down to building and road-specific data on carbon dioxide emissions, fostering a more comprehensive look at sources of emissions.
Lin said it is important to note that Hestia does not yet map the type of air pollutants responsible for the Wasatch Front's struggle with inversions or the buildup of summer-time ozone, but the hope is that some day it will.
Utah researchers are adapting Hestia to track other pollutants dangerous to human health so they can compare emissions and exposures across neighborhoods. Because carbon dioxide is co-emitted with other pollutants, an understanding of its levels will lead to more detailed estimates of other pollutants. Targeted pollution in the next phase of Hestia includes carbon monoxide, lead, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen and sulfur oxides.
You can't mitigate what you can't measure.
–Kevin Gurney, researcher
According to Lin and Daniel Mendoza, an atmospheric sciences post-doctoral fellow, the ultimate goal is to deliver high-resolution maps and interactive data visualizations that can inform lawmakers, regulators and the public about the nature of emission sources.
Such information could someday help guide urban planning decisions and could potentially assist regulators in permitting decisions.
"You can't mitigate what you can't measure," said Kevin Gurney, who led the Arizona State University team of researchers that developed Hestia. "This allows us to calculate where emissions come from and helps us to unscramble the egg and get to where the problem is."
Salt Lake City-specific data is for multiple years, ending with 2012.
Lin said because the Salt Lake community is already so engaged on the topic of air pollution, the U. team did not have a tough time convincing partners that the data collection would be worthwhile.
"We didn't have to knock too hard on people's doors," he said.
The utility of Hestia — beyond its voluminous piles of information that it compiles — is the way it can spark interest from the public and organizations with its hourly dive into specific pollution generators.
Gurney said people and corporations may be motivated to make lifestyle or policy changes because of the pocketbook, or for altruistic reasons, but being compared to one's neighbors is an even more signficant motivator for behavioral shifts.
"That seems to really get to people, this notion being compared to their neighbor, and doing worse," he said.
Gurney added that how much of that information ultimately becomes available — and if someone could find out their neighbors' emission levels — will have to be a policy decision that is reached by the U. team and its partners.
Kevin Emerson, Utah Clean Energy's senior policy associate, attended the Monday panel discussion detailing Hestia and was pleased with its prospects for shedding new information on the Wasatch Front's pollution problem.
"It is really exciting to see an academic institution bring their academic might to this issue," he said.