This blog post was contributed by Kateryna Lapina, an atmospheric chemist working at the University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Mechanical Engineering. In her work she uses chemical transport models to estimate the negative impacts of ground-level ozone on vegetation, including the loss of major agricultural crops and ozone-sensitive tree species in the U.S.
By Kateryna Lapina
The garden at the Mountain Research Station (MRS) of the University of Colorado Boulder is the newest addition to our growing network of ozone gardens in Colorado. It is located across from the visitor center at 2900 meters (9500 feet) in elevation. We are curious to see what these plants will tell us about ozone levels at this high elevation.
Because ozone pollution is formed from chemicals cooking in the Sun, some of the highest ozone concentrations can be found outside of urban areas. This is why even the air in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) often contains high levels of ozone in the summer. Last fall, scientists and park employees observed ozone injury on the leaves of cutleaf coneflower in RMNP. We collected seeds from the cutleaf coneflowers that had visible ozone injury in RMNP, and they are now growing in our ozone gardens.
Cutleaf coneflowers are the only type of bioindicator plant we have at the MRS garden. Although the coneflowers were planted on June 18, the plants do not yet show any sign of ozone injury and are still very small compared to the ones in the gardens at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. We think this is because cutleaf coneflower grows best at locations with moist soils, while the soils at MRS are quite sandy and hold little water. These plants also do not always like to be transplanted, so we are expecting this garden to grow better next year after the plants have become established. We hope this garden becomes a valuable indicator of ozone pollution in the mountains.