Ozone in Colo. mountains surprises researchers

August 28, 2014
Photo: Denver haze (iStockphoto)
A hazy day over the Denver metro area. 

Researchers say they're surprised by how much harmful ozone and ozone-causing chemicals are drifting into the Colorado mountains from urban and rural areas below.

NCAR -- the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, along with scientists from NASA, measured ozone from aircraft, ground monitors and mobile stations over the past six weeks. They were able to learn more about the chemical components of Colorado’s ozone, and even track Front Range pollution moving into the mountains.

Scientists followed Front Range ozone all the way up into Grand County, over the Continental Divide.  NCAR researcher Frank Flocke says they knew pollution migrated over the state, but the new study made that process unusually clear.

“You can see in some cases really kind of a river of pollution spilling over the mountains. And I think that hasn’t really been documented well,” Flocke said.

They say mountain ozone levels were similar to or greater than levels at lower elevations in some cases.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment helped pay for the project. Flocke says the work could provide the state with valuable information for efforts to improve air quality.

”We hope that the state will be able from our findings to find a good strategy to reduce air pollution in the area without hurting the economy too much,” he said.

The scientists stressed they are in the early stages of reviewing the data and were hesitant to offer many specifics. They expect to start making data public by the end of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.