Harvard, MIT Get $2 M for Research on Climate Change Impacts

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are getting $2.1 million in grants to explore public health and environmental aspects of climate change. These grants are part of nearly $17 million awarded to universities nationwide by EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

The first project, to be undertaken at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will study how regional climate conditions may be linked to the production, strength, and distribution of asthma-producing pollens from weeds, grasses and trees. Allergies are responsible for a substantial proportion of healthcare costs in the United States, and chronic allergic reactions have been increasing since 1970.

"As Harvard's center for ecology and conservation, the Harvard Forest is engaged in regionally relevant research that connects human activity to the ecological landscape,” said the Harvard/UMASS Team. “With new EPA funding, we are developing models and maps to predict where and when global change will exacerbate allergy risks due to pollen outbreaks in New England. This work forges new collaborations with public health professionals and creates unique opportunities to elucidate the links between global change ecology and human health."

A second Harvard project, to be undertaken with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, will examine the effects of changing climate on wildfires and the consequences for air quality and public health implications in the United States. The researchers will refine a fire prediction model focusing on fires in shrub and grasslands in California, the Southwest, and boreal North American forests.

“Emissions from wildfires can have deleterious effects on air quality. As climate change brings higher temperatures and perturbs rainfall patterns over the next few decades, the effects on wildfires and regional air quality could be large,” said the Harvard/NASA GISS Team. “In our newly funded EPA project, we will improve our forecasts of wildfires and air quality and will also investigate how climate change affects the length of the fire season in North America.”

A third grant has been awarded to researchers at MIT who will work with NESCAUM, a regional air pollution control interstate government group based in Boston. This project will examine how transportation technologies and policy choices in response to climate change will impact air quality, human health and the economy on global and local scales by 2050. It will model the costs and benefits of different ways to adapt to climate change, assessing vehicle technologies including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and bio-fuels.

"This EPA-STAR project will help us to better understand the interactions between human activities, air pollution, regulations, climate, and human health across different scales,” said the MIT/NESCAUM Team. “Our case study of the air pollution implications of emerging vehicle technologies in the Northeast U.S. will help us to inform regional policy makers as they address climate change and regional air pollution issues."

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