DEC 02, 2021 2:00 PM PST

Car Emissions Could Be a Much Larger Source of Ammonia Pollution than We Realize

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

COVID-19 lockdowns made stark changes to Earth’s air pollution. In the early stages of the pandemic, people started noticing drastically clearer skies as pollution and smog decreased due to stalled production and fewer vehicles on the road. One team of researchers decided to use this to their advantage and study air pollution in the second-most populous city in the US: Los Angeles (LA), California.

Ammonia is a dangerous air pollutant often produced by vehicles. It’s hard to determine how much ammonia is produced by cars versus other significant sources, like agriculture. But when COVID-19 surged and LA went into lockdown, estimates say traffic decreased 24%. LA is known for its outrageous traffic, so this noticeable decrease gave researchers a unique opportunity to study vehicle emissions in the region.

LA was chosen because of its air pollution problem. Researchers observed that downtown LA (which has a lot of car traffic), and Riverside, California, which hosts many livestock and agriculture farms, were two major hotspots. While farms were thought to have been the most significant contributors to ammonia pollution, this study’s results say otherwise.

A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters found that the ammonia levels from cars may be significantly higher than national averages suggest. State and national surveys estimate that ammonia emissions from vehicles make up 13-22% of total ammonia pollution, while researchers calculated that it is possible cars could contribute to upwards of 60-95%.

This study was the first time that ammonia levels from vehicles were able to be studied via satellite. In the first half of March 2020, researchers collected data from the western half of LA and created computer models to turn satellite images into quantitative data on ammonia levels.

Next, the team wants to expand this research to other cities using the same techniques. It’s estimated that 15,000 premature deaths are caused by ammonia pollution in the US per year, but these estimates, like previous estimates of ammonia levels, may be higher than we thought. These researchers hope that their results will reveal the dangers of underestimating ammonia pollution and hopefully lead to more regulations for vehicles.

Source: Environmental Technology and Letters, BBC

About the Author
  • Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional minor in Creative Writing. She is currently located in the Washington D.C. area pursuing freelance writing opportunities and full-time science communications positions.
You May Also Like
OCT 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
To Combat Deforestation, Research Reveals that Policy Timing is Key
OCT 27, 2021
To Combat Deforestation, Research Reveals that Policy Timing is Key
A duo of Stanford researchers have recently released a study in Global Sustainability that reveals the timing of policy ...
NOV 01, 2021
Plants & Animals
Honeybees Social Distance To Limit The Spread of Infectious Diseases
NOV 01, 2021
Honeybees Social Distance To Limit The Spread of Infectious Diseases
Honeybees are highly social creatures, with some research suggesting that such behavior is embedded into their very gene ...
NOV 16, 2021
Plants & Animals
Climate Change is Affecting the Shape and Size of Amazon Birds
NOV 16, 2021
Climate Change is Affecting the Shape and Size of Amazon Birds
The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most biodiverse locations on Earth, home to more than 3 million different species. I ...
NOV 29, 2021
Plants & Animals
Extinction of Ancient Grazing Species Caused an Increase in Global Fires
NOV 29, 2021
Extinction of Ancient Grazing Species Caused an Increase in Global Fires
Extinction events have been common in Earth’s history. Over the last 450 million years, for example, there have be ...
DEC 09, 2021
Microbiology
Microplastics Promote Antibiotic Resistance
DEC 09, 2021
Microplastics Promote Antibiotic Resistance
Microplastics pose a clear threat to the environment. They have been found nearly everywhere, from remote areas like the ...
JAN 04, 2022
Plants & Animals
Using Seals to Conduct Antarctic Ocean Research
JAN 04, 2022
Using Seals to Conduct Antarctic Ocean Research
Antarctica is the coldest, driest continent on Earth. As a result, it is virtually uninhabited by humans. At the same ti ...
Loading Comments...