Energy Research at the University of Washington

Becky Alexander

Energy Research Area: My group is studying the feedbacks between climate change and the chemical composition of the atmosphere utilizing the polar ice core record.

Associate Professor
College of the Environment
Atmospheric Sciences

The ability of the atmosphere to cleanse itself of the pollutants we release from our smokestacks and tailpipes is determined by the oxidative capacity of the atmosphere. It is unclear whether the atmosphere’s capacity to cleanse itself will be enhanced or diminished with a warming climate. The current and future oxidative capacity of the atmosphere has implications for air pollution levels as well as the concentration of certain greenhouse gases. We are utilizing the ice core record to understand how the oxidative capacity of the atmosphere has responded to past climate change over the past 100,000 years, and how it has responded to more recent human activities. The oxidative capacity cannot be directly measured, so we use proxies to reconstruct its past history. The proxies we measure, namely the oxygen isotopic composition of aerosols preserved in polar ice, are calibrated using a global 3-D model of atmospheric chemistry and transport. Once we better understand how past climate change has impacted the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself, we will be able to provide better predictions of future air quality.

Campus and Other Collaborators/Partners

Record last updated on September 18th 2013 PDT.