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Climate Change and Ozone

Photo of Seattle, Washington

In many areas of the country, ozone pollution on hot summer days is as predictable as an over-abundance of mosquitoes crashing your backyard barbecue. Like sunburn, ground level ozone thrives on sunlight. Keeping the pollutant at regulated levels to protect public health, however, may be an even greater challenge for air quality managers in the near future because of global climate change.

An April 2009 EPA report compiles and assesses the latest science on the implications of climate change for ozone formation in the United States. The report's findings demonstrate the potential for climate change to make ozone management more difficult. The report also highlights the gaps in science that require further study in this relatively new field of modeling climate and atmospheric chemistry.

The studies cannot predict what the future will hold for air quality as climate change continues, but they do provide some of the first critical information that air quality managers and policy makers can use to formulate pollution control strategies.

For example, climate change has the potential to produce significant increases in ground-level ozone in many regions, so air quality managers in areas just below or not in compliance with ozone standards should begin to consider the potential effects of climate change. Climate change also may lengthen the ozone season, so policy makers may need to extend the time over which they monitor ozone concentrations, and issue air quality alerts earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

"This report represents a significant advancement in our understanding of the possible impacts of climate change on air quality in the United States," says Joel Scheraga, National Program Director for EPA's Global Change Research Program. "It is our hope that the work we've done will enhance our ability as a nation to protect air quality and human health, even as the climate changes."

The report, entitled Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone, is part of EPA's Global Change Research Program's assessment efforts to consider the impact of climate change on air quality.

Upcoming reports will focus on other regulated pollutants, such as particulate matter and mercury, and the combined effects of climate and human-caused emissions. This will provide a more complete understanding of the range of possible impacts of global climate change on regional air quality.

More information on the Global Change Research Program

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