Behind the Ozone Garden: Ozone, Climate Change, and Our Health

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The Ozone Garden at the CU Museum of Natural History. Photo by Katya Hafich

Ground-level ozone (a.k.a “bad” ozone) is harmful to humans and plants. Ozone can make it difficult to breath, especially for those with asthma or other respiratory infections. High levels of ground-level ozone are hazardous for all people, but the young and elderly are often most affected. When an Ozone Action Alert is issued because of high ozone levels, the young and elderly are encouraged to stay inside and plan outdoor exercise early in the morning when ozone levels are lowest.

While people can go inside on Ozone Action Alert days, plants cannot. Spikes in ozone levels are dangerous to people, but for plants that are outside all of the time, long term exposure to ozone is what causes damage.

This year, there are four ozone gardens sprouting the area, including the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History,  University of Colorado Mountain Research StationNational Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Mesa Laboratory: Main Entrance, and NCAR Mesa Laboratory: Cafeteria Patio.

What’s so cool about the ozone gardens is that we can see ozone damage accumulate on leaves as plants are exposed to ozone day after day.

Many scientific studies have shown that ozone can form more easily on hot days. As our climate warms, we can expect more hot days, higher concentrations of ozone, and increasing risk to human and plant health. Careful monitoring of ozone sensitive plants can show how ozone damage changes from year to year.

To learn more about the impact of climate change on ozone, listen to this short story from Yale Climate Connections.

Learn more about the ozone gardens in Boulder, Colorado

Comments

  1. Dawn Cummings says:

    I teach environmental science at Community College of Denver. I am also on the committee for a new community garden we are building on campus. I would really like to incorporate a lesson plan in my environmental science class that involves using the garden to plant some ozone garden. However, I am not a gardener! Can you provide me with some ideas/tips to get started? I would really appreciate it!
    Thanks,
    Dawn Cummings
    Dawn.Cummings@ccd.edu

    • Hi Dawn,

      How exciting! Incorporating an ozone garden into your community garden on campus would be fantastic. There’s a group of active folks here in the Front Range working on the ozone gardens from NCAR, the CU Museum of Natural History, the Regional Air Quality Council and Rocky Mountain National Park.

      Danica and Kateryna, the scientists working on the gardens, will be presenting information on the gardens at the upcoming Colorado Science Conference on November 20, during the last session of the day (Session 5, Room G30-36). They will have information about how to plant an ozone garden there, as well as worksheets for collecting data on ozone plant damage. I can also put you in touch with them directly if you’d like, just send me an email!

      Also- we are planning on developing outdoor signs to be placed at ozone gardens, which will be shared widely in the spring. Keep an eye out, we’ll post them on LMAC.

      Thanks,
      Katya
      Katya.Hafich@colorado.edu

      • Dawn Cummings says:

        Fantastic! I will be at the Colorado Science conference so I will definitely go to their session. Thank you!

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