Summer has arrived, and so have longer days and warmer weather. However, did you know that the summer also brings worse air quality? In this post, we’ll go into four factors that lead to worse air quality in the summer, and how you can take action to help your community this season.

1. Heat and humidity contribute to ozone formation. While ozone in the stratosphere is beneficial for the Earth, ozone that forms close to the ground, also referred to as tropospheric ozone, can pose a danger to our health, worsening chronic lung disease and even increasing mortality rates. Ozone tends to form on warm, sunny days when there’s less movement in the air. Whereas on windy, cool, and cloudy days, ozone production is more limited. In the summer, heat waves, weak winds, and stagnant air can all lead to higher ozone production. 

2. Travel increases in the summer. Ozone at ground level is ​​created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The uptick in travel in the summer leads to an increase in pollutants emitted by vehicles and airplanes. The emissions chemically react in the presence of sunlight, leading to more ozone formation.

Ground-level ozone formation (Source: Climate & Clean Air Coalition)

3. Arid conditions release more dust into the air. Dust from the Sahara desert is known to traverse the Mediterranean Sea and affect the air in southern parts of Europe. Dust from the Sahara desert can even reach the southern U.S.! Winds can sweep dust westward across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. This dust layer is 2 to 3 miles thick and is known as SAL, or the Saharan Air Layer.

4. Forest fires occur more frequently. Parched forests combined with high temperatures, strong winds, and lightning can trigger the occurrence of a forest fire. Fine particles, or particulate matter, found in wildfire smoke can be small enough to enter and lodge deep in the lungs. Increased particle pollution is known to trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and even strokes. Like dust, wildfire smoke can travel long distances, across state lines and even across country borders. Learn more about wildfire smoke and particulate matter here.

River of smoke from Canadian wildfires in June 2015 (Source: NASA)

While all of this seems quite grim, it’s important to keep in mind that we can’t fix what we don’t measure. ​​To address issues with air quality, the best action we can take is to start measuring, understand how air quality changes over time, locate the sources of pollution, and fix the problem at the root.

Temboo has been partnering with community groups across the USA to collect hyper-local air quality data, which is shared through a daily email service. Each morning, you’ll find an email in your inbox with air quality information for your location as well as relevant information and health advice. Read more about it here

Interested in benefiting your community with your own local air sensors, or have any questions? Contact us to learn how Temboo can help you!