Kirk Beckendorf, July 29, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 29, 2004

Daily Log

How can you map air?

Air moves and so does pollution. Some areas of the country which produce very little pollution may actually record high levels of pollution, because pollution from somewhere else moves there. A program called Airmap is a joint program of NOAA and the University of New Hampshire is seeking to look at some of that pollution. Check out their website at The goal of Airmap is to learn as much as they can to try and understand New England’s changing climate and air quality. Airmap has a number of year round monitoring stations, which this summer are also part of NEAQS. Their stations measure the normal weather data as well as a number of pollutants such as ozone.

Today I visited one of those sites in northern New Hampshire, at the top of Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in New England. The mountains are a lot larger than I had expected and are very densely forested. Mt. Washington is known to have some of the worst weather in the world and the monitoring station that I visited recorded the strongest winds ever recorded on Earth, 231 miles per hour. The buildings at the summit are specially designed to keep from them from blowing off of the mountain. One is even chained down. The observatory building is designed to survive winds of 300 mile per hour.The monitoring station at the top of the mountain is manned by a staff of about 8 during the summer and 4-5 during the winter. Every hour the observers go outside and take weather measurements, this takes them about 15 minutes. Most of the observers are college students or recent graduates. One of those who showed me around will be a freshman in college this next year. In addition to the weather data being collected, a bank of Airmap instruments also measure pollution. Some of the instruments are the same as those I saw on the Brown. The instruments are making constant automatic measurements.

I have become well aware that pollution can travel to unpolluted areas but today, here at the top of Mt. Washington, it really struck home. I drove three hours through fairly remote forest to get to the top of this mountain in northern New Hampshire. Looking out from the top, when the fog is not blowing through, one sees very little except for forest. But at this remote spot, several times a year, ozone reaches levels higher than the amount allowed by the EPA. I ask where it comes from, the answer I receive is that a lot of the pollution seems to from the Midwest, (the Chicago and Detroit area) some also comes from Boston and New York. Part of the goal of NEAQS is to learn more about the pollution as it travels from the areas which produce the pollution, to the areas that receive it.

Questions of the Day

How far would the pollution have to travel from Detroit to Mt. Washington?

Where are the rest of the Airmap monitoring sites?