Research

Interdisciplinary Approach

Scientific analysis is a vital prerequisite to the development of sound environmental policy responses. However, research frequently remains within a single discipline. Rarely will an atmospheric scientist venture into the policy arena and rarely will a policy maker understand the details of atmospheric science. However, interdisciplinary research that links science with economics and policy is crucial for addressing the deleterious effects of air pollution on climate change, human health, and welfare; examining the costs imposed on society by these effects; and exploring energy technology and policy options for encouraging more desirable outcomes.  

My group’s research, together with our collaborators, maintains depth in atmospheric science and utilizes tools from public health, agronomy, energy systems engineering and economics to inform the development of appropriate environmental policy. Our research to date has made significant interdisciplinary contributions and has laid an unusually strong foundation to address further questions at the intersection of atmospheric science and policy.

My research program has recently focused on five major research areas:

1.  Co-benefits.  Research on China with a focus on potential co-benefits for air quality, health and carbon dioxide mitigation of increased penetration of renewable energy/electrification, and trade-offs with the use of natural gas and synthetic natural gas.  My group has published some of the first papers that applied atmospheric chemistry transport models to evaluate the benefits of various air pollution mitigation strategies for global agricultural yields (Avnery et al., 2011a, 2011b, 2013), the residential sector (Liu et al, PNAS, 2016, , Zhou et al., Nature Sustainability, 2021), power and electrification (Peng et al., Nature Sustainability 2018a, Applied Energy 2018b) transport and industry (Peng et al., One Earth, 2021) in China. Our research has led to a large number of subsequent studies that have adopted our approach and has had direct impacts on the development of environmental policy in China. In particular, our research showing the large impact that residential coal heaters have on ambient air pollution in the Beijing-Tianjing-Hebei region (Liu et al, PNAS, 2016) was influential in catalyzing a program to replace their use with clean heaters. Our subsequent research has identified the benefits, trade-offs and costs of the various clean heater options (Zhou et al., Nature Sustainability, 2021). We are now extending this integrated assessment approach to India.

2. Methane is a critical greenhouse gas with high radiative forcing and a relatively short lifetime. Research led by my group was the first to identify that abandoned oil and gas wells continue to leak natural gas for decades after abandonment. Field work in Pennsylvania culminated in quantitative measurements of methane leakage from these abandoned wells (Kang et al., PNAS, 2014, 2016). Subsequent measurements in West Virginia demonstrated, in a series of publications, the widespread nature of leakage from wells that had been abandoned for decades (eg. Riddick et al., Science of Total Env, 2019). Our work led to the inclusion of methane leakage from abandoned wells in the United States GHG emission inventory. In January 2022, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden administration announced $1.15 billion for states to create jobs cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells across the country. Plugging these wells will help advance the goals of the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan to reduce methane emissions. Initial research in the Mauzerall group, in collaboration with others in the CEE department, allowed leakage from these abandoned wells to be identified as a significant source of methane emissions and facilitated the development of policy and funding to address the problem.

3.  Nitrogen Use Efficiency and Global Food Security.  Mauzerall group research conducted the first quantitative synthesis of the challenges of managing global nitrogen fertilizer use sustainably (Zhang et al., Nature, 2015). Nitrogen use is affected by both agricultural production and dietary consumption practices. Mauzerall group research has examined the influence of both food production techniques and diet choices on nitrogen use efficiency. Research examined both how air quality, nitrogen use efficiency, and food security are improved in China by cost-effective agricultural nitrogen management (Guo et al., Nature Food, 2020) and how Chinese dietary choices can affect nitrogen use, associated air quality and health (Guo et al., One Earth, in press). As a way to address nitrogen pollution, Mauzerall’s groups research considered the stratospheric ozone regime (Montreal Protocol) as a tool to manage nitrogen use efficiency and associated nitrous oxide (N2O )emissions (Kanter et al., PNAS, 2013). Limiting nitrous oxide pollution using the Montreal Protocol is justified as N2O is the largest remaining threat to the stratospheric ozone layer while being a GHG that is primarily a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer use.

4. Aerosol impacts on solar PV generation and climate.  Aerosols adversely affect the ability of solar PV panels to generate electricity due to both aerosols in the atmosphere which reduce irradiance reaching the surface and by aerosols deposited on the surface of the PV panels which dirty the panels and reduce generation. Mauzerall group research was the first to estimate the aerosol impact on solar PV electricity generation in China using satellite derived surface irradiance and a PV performance model (Li et al., PNAS, 2017). We then went on to use satellite observation constrained surface irradiance, aerosol deposition, precipitation rates, and PV performance models to demonstrate that, in most polluted or dusty parts of the world, PV generation is even more greatly reduced by PV panel soiling via aerosol deposition (Li et al., Nature Sustainability, 2020). Our findings demonstrate that cleaning PV panels in polluted parts of the world are critical to maximizing solar electricity generation and that reducing air pollution provides a win-win opportunity for solar electricity generation with reduced aerosols increasing PV generation, and increased PV generation reducing the need to use fossil fuels.

5. Overseas foreign direct investment and development finance's role in global utilization of coal powered electricity generation.

 

 

Past Research

 

Animations

Examine animations of the present and possible future transport of air pollutants from one region of the world to another!