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News Specialist Jed Boal reporting As an inversion settles into the Salt Lake Valley, University of Utah scientists are moving ahead with a project that could clear up questions about our pollution problems.
The factors that contribute to our haze are complex, but the study will attack pollution from many angles.
More than two dozen researchers and students are starting to collect data on the air we breathe.
They want to find out where pollution comes from, why it varies from day to day, and how to tackle the problem.
Many factors combine to create this foul haze. So a team of scientists will use these tools to collect data, dissect the haze, and create computer models to help us avoid it in the future.
"What we're trying to do is sort of understand what are the factors that influence how a city operates with regard to air pollution," says Joseph Klewicki, chairman of the University of Utah Mechanical Engineering Department.
Atmospheric scientists, ecologists and urban planners will work together in the $1.5 million Salt Lake Valley Airshed Project.
This tower went up on top of Beacon Heights Elementary today. The equipment, called anemometers, will measure atmospheric conditions in Salt Lake City, wind speeds and directions, and later will measure fluctuations of carbon dioxide.
"Measure how carbon dioxide is transported from ground level in urban areas into the atmosphere, or vice versa, from the atmosphere down to ground level," says Matt Nelson, a doctoral student.
One of the things they expect to discover is exactly how a spike in traffic here on Foothill Boulevard caused an increase in the pollutants in the air.
"What we hope to come up with is some mechanistic descriptions of how a city evolves and how growth in a city might be modeled so that we can do better planning," Klewicki says.
Later in the project, they will create a computer model to trace the complex interactions of a great number of factors -- from cars and climate to trees, furnaces and water vapor.
If scientists can understand how the pollution is created and moves in the valley, policy-makers can better understand how to reduce it.
The project should last 30 months. Despite population growth, tougher clean air regulations have led to improved air quality in the last two decades. But it's still potentially unhealthy when the haze moves in.