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Tracking Wasatch Front Air Quality Using The TRAX System

A TRAX light rail train pulls into the station with railroads, green grass, and a blue sky.

New research out of the University of Utah tracks air quality across the Wasatch Front through instruments placed on TRAX light rail trains, revealing diverse air quality patterns throughout the Wasatch Front.

"We find there’s all sorts of interesting patterns for each species that we’re looking at for PM2.5 or ozone or NOx," said Logan Mitchell, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah. “They have different spatial patterns that are related to emissions, atmospheric chemistry, as well as atmospheric transport, the winds that blow pollutants from one part of the valley to the other.”

Mitchell and his collaborators partnered with the Utah Transportation Authority and placed observational instruments on top of TRAX trains in Salt Lake City to measure the spatial patterns of air quality in the city over a given time.

What did they find? Interesting patterns in air quality across the Salt Lake valley based on different parameters. 

“There’s not always one spot that’s always worse than other spots and it's the location of that air quality that differs by time of day, day of week, weather conditions and also seasonally,” Mitchell said. 

An implication of Mitchell’s research is that this air quality dataset has larger applications connecting air quality to our health.

"The things that we could potentially be looking at in the future is pairing this spatial air quality data with health impacts across the valley to understand the health impacts of air quality better," he said.

Next steps in this project include addressing the source of these emissions.

"Another thing that we are interested in looking at is how to use this spatial data set to understand emissions better and to look at emissions inventories to see if they are right and how they can be improved," Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, it is important to monitor and find ways to improve Utah’s air quality. Utahans, he adds, can improve the air quality in this state by using public transportation like TRAX to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. 

Access to Mitchell's recent article in the journal Atmospheric Environment can be found here.