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Dr. Peter DeCarlo Wins NSF Award to Research Aerosol Particles in Antarctica

July 10, 2014

Peter DeCarloDr. Peter DeCarlo, Assistant Professor in the Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering (CAEE) Department and the Department of Chemistry has been granted an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) entitled: Collaborative Research: High-resolution Study of Atmosphere, Ice, and Aerosol Interactions in Coastal Antarctica. The amount awarded is $388,798 and the project will continue for span of three years starting in July 2014.

Dr. DeCarlo, post-doc Michael Giordano, and CAEE Department doctoral candidate Anita Johnson, will travel with Lars Kalnajs and collaborators from the University of Colorado to McMurdo Station in Antarctica to use an Aerodyne Aerosol Mass Spectrometer and recently purchased Particle-into-Liquid Sampler (Brechtel Manufacturing Inc.) to collect real-time online measurements of aerosol (also known as particulate matter) composition.  This project will obtain high time resolution measurements of aerosol composition and size in the Ross Island region in southern coastal Antarctica.  Aerosol particles play a critical role in the chemical and radiative balance of the Antarctic atmosphere.  

The interaction between aerosols, the gas phase, sea ice and the snowpack is complex and not well understood.  Depletion of ground level ozone can be partially attributed to an increase in the coupling of gas and particle phases - these interactions can lead to aerosol formation and eventually to deposition and build-up in the snowpack.  Snowpack consists of layers of snow that accumulate in regions where the climate includes cold weather for extended periods during the year. It is the incorporation of these aerosol particles into the ice core record (derived from the snowpack) that provides a window into the Earth’s past atmospheres.  Dr. DeCarlo’s research group intends to provide aerosol measurements that will lead to a more complete understanding of the coupling of gas and particle phases which will enhance knowledge of current Antarctic atmospheric conditions and by extension the past Antarctic climate.  

Due to the ability of the Aerodyne Aerosol Mass Spectrometer to make extremely high resolution and sensitive real-time online measurements, the data sets created by DeCarlo and his team will be of significant value to researchers in the fields of atmospheric chemistry, climate modeling paleo-climatology, glaciology and limnology.  The project will also enhance STEM education opportunities by including a high school science teacher as a member of the field team who will be tasked with educational outreach regarding the importance of Antarctic aerosols in the understanding of present and past atmospheres.  These research findings will also be incorporated into classes taught at both Drexel University and University of Colorado at Boulder.