Lecture focuses on pollutants in Alaska

Shae Bowman/ Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 19, 2013

Guest lecturer Catherine Cahill poses after her lecture. Shae Bowman/ Sun Star Reporter

Guest lecturer Catherine Cahill poses after her lecture. Shae Bowman/Sun Star

Students, faculty, and members of the community listened to a lecture about pollutants transported into Alaska in the Reichardt building on Friday, Nov. 15.

The lecture, titled “When the world comes to Alaska: The long-range transport of soils and pollutants into Alaska,” was given by Catherine Cahill, an Associate Professor in the UAF Chemistry and Biochemistry department.

Cahill also works as a researcher at the Geophysical Institute.

The lecture was about how pollutants produced outside of Alaska can be transported into Alaska via airstreams. “Alaska has some of the cleanest air in the world if you stay out from under the inversion in Fairbanks,” Cahill said.

“The amazing thing is that even though our air is some of the cleanest in the world, we can identify particles from various sources around the world.”

These aerosols are important because they can affect several aspects of our world  including human health, ecosystems, climate and aircraft.

Cahill focuses on aerosols being transported over large distances.

During the lecture, Cahill said, “I am an aerosol geek, I admit it, and I speak fluent aerosol.”

An aerosol is anything other than a gas that is suspended in the atmosphere for any length of time.

However, scientists are still very uncertain about how aerosols affect the climate, Cahill said.

An example of long-range transport pollutant is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane being transported into Alaska from Africa.

DDT is used because it is a highly effective insecticide against mosquitoes.

DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 because of the negative effects on Bald Eagle reproductive success.

Unfortunately, DDT that came from Africa is detectable in Denali National Park.

In terms of human health effects, aerosols are breathed in and then embedded in the lungs.

This is important to consider when exercising outside.

“The amount deposited deeper in the lungs goes up because you are breathing harder,” Cahill said.

Cahill advised running above the inversion and ensuring the the Alaska Range is visible from UAF before running outside.

According to Doug Schneider of the Alaska Sea Grant the inversion in Fairbanks is caused because cold air prevents warm air from rising.

This is a problem because any pollutants produced remain close to the ground.

When there is inversion going on in fairbanks, “the number of people going to the hospital because of strokes increases.” according to Cahill.

Alaska can be polluted by outside sources, that the state has no control over.

Tracing where pollutants are coming from and how they are impacting Alaska is an invaluable source of information when it comes to possible policy changes as well as how our everyday lives proceed, according to Cahill.

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