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The Biden Administration is tightening air pollution regulations again, this time by dropping particulate matter standards to levels near natural background concentrations in some areas. The move can further handicap America’s low-cost, abundant energy supplies, increase consumer costs, and disproportionately burden lower-income families. Of course, human-culpable climate change is invoked for any drastic measures imposed on the supposedly passive populace.

Air pollution is certainly a concern; however, some perspective on where the nation has come from and where it’s going on this issue is necessary. A look at research germane to air quality levels and climate change is also important.

Regarding perspective, the fifty-fourth Earth Day was celebrated last month on April 22. Much of the angst that prompted that designated day in 1970 emerged from serious air pollution events. Perhaps, the most important event occurred seventy-five years ago in late 1948.

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During October through December that year, 21 residents of Donora, Pennsylvania and vicinity died from high concentrations of toxic fumes spewed from the local heavy industry. This tragic event in Donora–a small town about twenty miles south of Pittsburgh–over the ensuing years lead to our national air quality laws and regulations; eventually producing the Clean Air Act in 1970, just a few months after the first Earth Day.

Since the 1970s, air quality in the U.S. has improved dramatically. The atmospheric concentrations of the criteria pollutants of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and various sizes of particulate matter have all measurably decreased. We have a lot to celebrate.

Challenges remain with various toxic air pollutants, yet stringent federal, state, and local regulations have successfully limited emissions from nearly all industrial and mobile sources.

Regardless, the specter of decreasing air quality because of anthropogenic climate change is on the rise. Warming can contribute to greater chances for increases in concentrations of some pollutants like volatile organic compounds and ground-level ozone. But, because of the complexity of atmospheric dynamics, continued objective research is in order.

Part of the concern for air-quality deterioration is from studies that show some potentially problematic changes in the lowest level of the atmosphere.

Nevertheless, my recent, first-of-its-kind research on the air closest to the ground revealed mixed results as to changes in atmospheric conditions with increasing temperatures.

In a peer-reviewed research paper published in 2022, I presented results from assessment of 30 years (January 1991 through December 2020) of morning and evening upper-air measurements collected by the Pittsburgh National Weather Service. My team and I reviewed and analyzed more than 21,000 observations to reveal the amount and strength of surface temperature inversions and their trends over the decades.

A temperature inversion is a naturally occurring condition where warm upper-level air rests above cool lower-level air. This is a stable situation because light air is situated above heavy air, keeping the air from circulating. With a temperature inversion just above the earth’s surface, air becomes stagnant and air pollution levels can increase dramatically, as they did in the notorious Donora episode.

Furthermore, just like severe weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes, the number and strength of surface inversions can be altered depending on how climate changes.

So, what did the research on surface-based temperature inversions uncover?

Analysis of the weather data from the 30-year record suggests some good and some bad outcomes during a warming climate.

For the 30-year period, much of southwestern Pennsylvania saw substantial surface inversions on almost 50 percent of mornings. Evening inversions happened with a frequency of about 20 percent.

Yet, over the three-decade duration, there was a discernable decline in both morning and evening inversion frequencies. Likewise, surface inversion strength in the morning was also generally trending downward, although the evening inversion strength was increasing.

A 30-year investigation of surface inversion data from nearly 500 measurement stations throughout the world was recently published by another group of researchers. The trends in that recent work for the northeast U.S. matched up well with my findings.

Research on temperature inversions focuses on the literal depth of atmospheric variabilities and is essential to advancing helpful interpretation of climate change.

Overall, the earth is warmer and to some extent humans have contributed to that warmth, but likely not as much as activists assert. A great deal of warmth is undoubtedly because of what’s termed the “urban heat island” effect, which we’ve known about for decades. This effect results from the replacement of green spaces with city structures, thus increasing the generation and retention of energy in the exchange.

Limited results from research on one critical component of climate change—the surface-inversion trend—imply both positive and negative effects from global warming. Science is nuanced, so definite conclusions are elusive.

Of course, as with all meticulous scientific studies, additional investigation is needed to understand and corroborate these outcomes with observed atmospheric conditions, other climate trends, and the climate system.

And like so much rigorous scientific research, positive and negative results are the norm. However, administrations and politicians selecting outcomes that suit their agendas apparently are also the norm.

Anthony J. Sadar is an adjunct associate professor of science at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. Mr. Sadar is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist with more than 40 years of experience in air-quality practice and science education.