Ozone gardens at CU-Boulder and NCAR reveal harmful effects of pollution

Most people have heard about the harmful effects of pollution on human and plant health, but until recently, visualizing such effects took some imagination.

Now, new “ozone gardens” at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum of Natural History and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Mesa Laboratory make the evidence startlingly clear. Visits to the gardens are free and open to the public.

Scientists at CU-Boulder and NCAR are growing plants that develop brown and black spots on their leaves when exposed to harmful air pollution. The ozone gardens feature particular varietals of milkweed, snap bean, potato and coneflower, which are natural bioindicators capable of detecting the presence and frequency of high ozone concentrations. As pollution levels increase so, too, does the severity of damage exhibited on the plants’ leaves.

Researchers Danica Lombardozzi (NCAR) and Kateryna Lapina (CU Boulder)“Many air pollutants are not visible to the naked eye,” said Kateryna Lapina, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU-Boulder who founded the gardens along with post-doctoral scientist Danica Lombardozzi of NCAR (pictured). “We planted these gardens to shed light on air pollution in Boulder by making its impacts easily observable by anyone. The leaf injury developed by these plants by the end of the summer will tell us how unhealthy the air we breathe in Boulder can be and how ozone affects living systems.”

Lapina and Lombardozzi got the idea for the gardens from researchers in St. Louis who are sharing their experiences with ozone gardens as part of NASA’s Air Quality Applied Sciences Team.

Students at the CU-Boulder garden and monitoring equipment at the NCAR garden will take ozone measurements on several occasions throughout the summer. Plans are in development for interactive educational activities at the gardens including public workshops for students and teachers.

Read the entire article on Colorado.edu.
Listen to an interview with Danica Lombardozzi on Colorado Public Radio.
For more information about the gardens and other research being conducted by Lapina, Henze and Milford visit the project website.

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