The southeastern United States may have high levels of ozone air pollution for a longer time each year due to climate change, a new study suggests.
July and August have traditionally been peak months for the health-threatening pollutant. But those peaks could extend well into fall as weather becomes warmer and drier, the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers said.
That’s because extreme weather associated with climate change may cause drought-stressed trees to release more of the precursor compound that helps form ozone, the investigators explained.
“This study shows that our air quality, particularly ozone in the fall, is becoming more sensitive to the effects of climate change,” study author Yuhang Wang said in an institute news release.
“The direction of climate change is such that we are likely going to see hotter and drier fall seasons, which may create larger ozone extremes in the Southeast. We are likely to have record ozone days in the fall, and we need to prepare for that,” he added.
Wang, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said getting the word out is a must.
“We will need the organizations that are involved in public awareness and public warning to know what’s coming and be prepared for these extreme conditions,” he said. “This could have a significant effect on people living in the Southeast United States.”
Ozone can cause breathing problems and can also affect the growth of agricultural crops, the study authors noted. During the summer, people across the Southeast are often asked to take steps such as refueling vehicles in the morning or evening to reduce ozone formation, they added. Sensitive people are urged to stay indoors when ozone levels are high.
Those steps may need to be in place longer if ozone peaks continue into the fall season, Wang said.
The study was published online Aug. 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is believed to be the first study to link changes in ground-level ozone levels to drought stress on trees, according to the news release.
The American Lung Association has more on air pollution and health.