Managing Impacts of Global Transport of Atmosphere-Surface Exchangeable Pollutants in the Context of Global Change
Toxic pollutants that pass readily in both directions between the atmosphere and environmental surfaces exhibit three characteristic tendencies when they are emitted to the environment: resistance to rapid degradation, accumulation in organic-rich surface reservoirs, and semivolatility causing re-emission to the atmosphere. These pollutants, termed "Atmosphere-Surface Exchangeable Pollutants" or ASEPs, are emitted to the environment through human activities, are transported and "processed" in the environment, and are then deposited where they may harm humans and wildlife, often in locations distant from their original use or release. Incomplete understanding of the dynamic behavior of these pollutants in the environment has resulted in efforts to regulate them that do not fully protect human and ecosystem health from risks. The human system, including sociopolitical activities, cultural perspectives, and socioeconomic activity resulting in emission of the pollutants into the environment and other environmental stressors, the biogeochemical cycling of the pollutants in the global environment, and the impairment of ecosystem services that result from this cycling comprise the coupled human-natural system of study. The objective of this study is to probe the complex dynamics and feedbacks within the system and to identify critical social adaptations and governance advancements required to address the challenges to sustainability posed by these chemicals. Because emissions of these pollutants occur throughout the world and they tend to move northward in cycles of re-volatilization and deposition, resource managers face a particularly difficult challenge in addressing concerns related to this form of contamination. To identify ways in which the regulation of these chemicals can be improved, simulate their global transport will be simulated under differing future climate and land cover/land use scenarios to estimate amounts sequestered in and re-emitted from ecosystems. The project team will quantify the economic costs in the United States caused by exposure to these chemicals and analyze efforts to adaptively manage these chemicals at scales ranging from local to global. The Laurentian Great Lakes will provide the geographical focus for nested analysis of social adaption and governance.
The project focuses on pollutants that travel long distances in the atmosphere and cause harm to humans and ecosystems far from the locations where they were emitted. The characteristics of atmosphere surface exchangeable pollutants lead to a separation in space and time between use and harmful impacts. These pollutants are released into the environment through human activities that yield economic benefits, but the economic costs of damage to human health and environmental impacts are often borne by other segments of society. Because the chemicals cross political boundaries, efforts to address any concerns are complex. The project team will examine details of the environmental cycling of these pollutants (how, where and when they cycle between the air and the Earth surface) that currently impede our ability to model their global transport and fate, and thus inform policy decision-making. They will also assess the economic damages caused in the United States by these pollutants. By studying the coupled human natural system involving these chemicals, this project will improve our understanding of sustainable means of production, use and governance of a class of pollutants. Public outreach and distributed K college education activities, and partnering between researchers, educators, stakeholders, and decision makers, will promote incorporation of research results into learning, education, and governance. This project brings together a diverse group of natural and social scientists from four academic institutions to study the problem of these pollutants in a more holistic fashion than has ever been attempted to date, and may serve as a model for studying other classes of substances in the future.