Friday brings yellow air day, inversion season underway

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It's time for the inversions and the poor air quality that comes with them; the Division of Air Quality has marked Friday as a yellow air day.

Officials with the DAQ said inversions usually come around in the middle of December, but this winter they're having a late start.

“We're quite fortunate through the month of December because we had warm conditions and we never really had the opportunity for an inversion set up,” said Mark Struthwolf, who is a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

But recent snow storms brought cold temperatures, trapping air in the valley and gunking up the air at lower elevations.

“Now we have the conditions ripe for inversion, and unfortunately that means that we're going to get some build up of pollutants and so forth in the lower part of the atmosphere,” Struthwolf said.

Researchers at the University of Utah are trying to use the smog to their advantage by monitoring air quality all throughout the valley using UTA’s TRAX trains.

“What we've done is we've put a box on top of the train, and we've put a number of instruments inside the box to measure air quality, so we're measuring particulate matter, and we're also measuring greenhouse gases, methane, and carbon dioxide,” said Logan Mitchell, one of the key researchers with the project.

He said this system is the first of its kind in the nation.

Mitchell said: “The whole goal of this project is to understand the spatial patterns, and how this data might be used is by, for example, medical researchers who are trying to understand: What is the relationship between an individual person's exposure to that air quality, and what is their response to it?"

He said the air quality in the valley is a problem they have to understand better before it can be fixed. And this research puts them on the right path.

“The first couple days of data were.... really interesting to look at, we had, not extremely bad air quality, but, even with moderate air quality, even so, you could already see patterns where the bottom of the valley had much higher concentrations of particulate matter, and up on the benches--out by Daybreak and up at the university--you had actually better air quality," he said. "And that's just because of how the air cools and where the pollutants are being released."

You can see their tracking in real-time by going to their website.

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