DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

DRI project contributes to an air quality win in Jakarta

Nov 8, 2021
By Kelsey Fitzgerald

Air Quality
Air Pollution

Above:Jakarta, Indonesia is severely polluted by sources that include vehicle emissions, factories, and coal-fired power plants.

Credit: Arnaud Matar, Flickr Image.

From Nevada to Jakarta, the work of DRI scientists often has long-lasting impacts in far-off places. This fall, scientists Alan Gertler, Ph.D., John Watson, Ph.D., Judith Chow, Sc.D., Sarath Guttikunda, Ph.D., and Ricky Tropp, Ph.D., received word that air quality monitoring guidelines and reports from a decade-old project in Indonesia had served a beneficial new purpose: providing key evidence in an important court decision that will require stricter air quality standards in the City of Jakarta.

The City of Jakarta is home to 10 million people, and severely polluted by sources that include vehicle emissions, factories, and coal-fired power plants. Additionally, burning of rainforest to create space for palm oil plantations in the countryside causes air pollution that extends into neighboring countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. 

air quality training seminar Jakarta

DRI’s John Watson, Ph.D., introduces an air quality training seminar in Jakarta in 2019.

Credit: DRI

In 2011, this DRI team began a multi-year project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop an urban air quality management program for Jakarta. The first phase of the project consisted of an emissions inventory, an assessment of health impacts of air pollution, development of pollution abatement strategies, upgrading the air quality measurement and management program, training in-country personnel in air quality management, development of an air quality index, and more.

Unfortunately, the second phase of the project, which would have consisted of developing control strategies for emissions reduction and providing air quality information to the public, was never funded.

“Although Phase II of the project was never funded, we did as much as we could with the funding that we had for Phase I,” said Gertler, Principal Investigator and Project Manager for the Jakarta project. “We worked on the project for a number of years and were able to make great progress toward helping stakeholders in Jakarta develop better air quality management capabilities.”

The DRI team completed their work on this project in 2017, but the air pollution problems in Jakarta continued. In 2019, a group of 32 Indonesian citizens decided to take action and filed a lawsuit against Indonesian President Joko Widodo and other top officials for neglecting the citizens’ rights to clean air.

As evidence, the prosecution requested the use of a number of data files and records from DRI’s project. Gertler and Watson were happy to comply – and in September, the court ruled in the Indonesian citizens’ favor, ordering the officials to tighten national air quality standards and fulfill the rights of citizens to a good and healthy environment.

“I’m really glad that someone was able to make use of the work that we did, and that they were successful at winning their case,” said Gertler. “Let’s hope they can make some progress toward cleaner air in Jakarta.”


Indonesian air quality monitoring station

John Watson (to left) visits a recently installed Indonesian air quality monitoring station.

Credit: DRI


About DRI

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit www.dri.edu.

DRI Air Quality Experts Awarded Prestigious Haagen-Smit Prize

DRI Air Quality Experts Awarded Prestigious Haagen-Smit Prize

April 30, 2020 (RENO) – Drs. Judith Chow and John Watson, research professors in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, were awarded Elsevier Publisher’s 2019 Haagen-Smit Prize for outstanding paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

Awarded annually, the Haagen-Smit Prize recognizes two outstanding papers out of the nearly 24,000 articles published in Atmospheric Environment since 2001. The 2019 Prize went to Chow, Watson, and their colleagues for their 1993 paper, “The DRI thermal/optical reflectance carbon analysis system: Description, evaluation and applications in U.S. air quality studies,” which has received more than 925 citations. It is the 12th most cited article in Atmospheric Environment since the journal’s inception.

“This paper has had a major influence on the practice of atmospheric science as evidenced by its very high number of citations,” wrote the Haagen-Smit Prize Committee.

The winning paper by Chow, Watson, and their DRI colleagues describes and evaluates instrumentation and methodology developed at DRI. The DRI Carbon Analyzer instrument and their analytical method was subsequently commercialized and adopted in air quality networks in the United States and other countries, including Canada and China. The resulting measurements have been used to determine the contributions to air pollution from sources like domestic cooking and heating, engine exhaust, wildfires, and other emitters, all of which affect human health, visibility, material soiling, and climate.

“We greatly appreciate this recognition for all of the contributing DRI faculty and staff, including Lyle Pritchett, Cliff Frazier, Rick Purcell, and especially our former Executive Director, the late Bill Pierson,” said Chow. “It illustrates the importance of the team efforts that distinguishes DRI.”

Dr. Ari Haagen-Smit was a pioneering air quality scientist who discovered and elucidated the origins of photochemical smog in southern California. He was a colleague of Dr. Frits Went at the California Institute of Technology, who later joined the DRI faculty and is the namesake of DRI’s Frits Went laboratory. Dr. Went developed methods to measure organic emissions from agricultural crops that Dr. Hagen-Smit applied to the engine exhaust emissions that created the smog.

This award is distinct from the California Air Resources Board’s (ARB) Haagen-Smit Clean Air Awards, often termed the “Noble Prize” of air quality science and policy. Dr. Haagen-Smit was the first ARB chairperson. Dr. Chow received this honor in 2011, and the 2018 award was bestowed on Dr. Watson.

At DRI, Chow leads Environmental Analysis Facility, where she, Watson, and her colleagues develop and apply advanced analytical methods to characterize air pollutants, identify sources and their effects on health, climate, visibility, ecosystems, and cultural artifacts.

Meet John Watson, Ph.D.

Meet John Watson, Ph.D.

John Watson, Ph.D., is a research professor of air quality science with the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. John specializes in air quality measurements, source apportionment (tracing pollutants to their sources), and adverse effects of air pollutants. He recently received the 2018 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award in honor of his five decades of air quality studies in central California. He grew up in southern California, and holds a bachelor’s degrees in physics from the State University of New York at Brockport, a master’s degree in physics from the University of Toledo, and a Ph.D. in environmental sciences from the Oregon Health and Science University. John has been a member of the DRI community since 1982. In his free time, John enjoys hiking in the mountains; his favorite National Park is Lassen. 

DRI: What do you study here at DRI?

JW: Most of my work involves air pollution studies with a focus on small particles — the inhalable kind that get into your body. The two big pollutants we’re interested in right now are ozone and particulate matter. Most of the other major pollutants have been pretty much brought under control.

Right now, some of our biggest projects are for the national speciation networks, where we prepare and send out air quality filters to locations all over the country, including many sites in national parks and wilderness areas (the IMPROVE program and Chemical Speciation Network). When we get the filters back to DRI, we analyze them for different compounds that impact things like visibility and human health.

Another big thing we’re looking at right now is wildfires. As our climate is changing, we’re getting prolonged periods of droughts interspersed with very extreme storms. We’re seeing that these are becoming not only more numerous, but more intense. We’ve developed a method that separates fire contributions from other sources of the particulate matter. We do this by measuring what we call the brown carbon. It turns out there’s a different color to the smoke. You don’t always know it when you see it, but once you sample it and make a measurement of it, we can separate it from things like engine exhaust.

DRI: You mentioned that you are especially interested in ozone and particulate matter. Why are these two pollutants so concerning?

JW: Air quality standards are based on public health. It should be of concern to most people that they’re taking years off their lives if they live in a polluted environment. These pollutants also cause material damage. Ozone destroys rubber, so windshield wipers, tires, and things like that deteriorate more rapidly.

Particulate matter deposits onto surfaces. Back when we had belching smokestacks, it used to be that you couldn’t hang your clothes out on a clothesline to dry, because they would be covered in black soot. In the mid-80s, we had a tremendous haze here in the Truckee Meadows because of pollution related to residential wood smoke, and even some of the road sanding. They were using a very fine sanding material to improve traction on the roads, which wasn’t effective; it was from volcanic material and it crushed up into very fine particles so it that would get suspended and be a nuisance as well. A more durable granite sand is currently in use.

DRI: What kind of tools and technology do you use to take air quality measurements?

JW: We’re starting to use small air quality monitors, which are battery powered devices that you can put in different places. Some have a wi-fi interface so you can look at the data in real time. Since they’re so small, you can power them with a five-volt charger. There are thousands of them in China, and some in California.

These types of micro-sensing devices are probably one of the areas where we’ll see a lot of growth in the future. Most of our instrumentation is bigger and bulkier, and a lot is based on filters that we take and we run thru different analyses in our laboratory. We can get up to 200 or 300 different chemical components from these samples.

The chemistry is important for several reasons – it’s kind of a fingerprint, so if you have a pattern of chemistry, you can use that to identify where the compounds came from. The other important aspect is the adverse environmental effects on health, ecosystems and other things.

Richard Corey (on left) of the California Air Resources Board congratulates DRI scientist John Watson (on right) on the receipt of the Haagen-Smit Award for air quality research

Richard Corey (on left) of the California Air Resources Board congratulates DRI scientist John Watson (on right) on the receipt of the Haagen-Smit Award for air quality research in February 2019. Credit: California Air Resources Board.

DRI: You were recently awarded the California Air Resource Board’s 2018 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award for your work in California. Can you tell us about that?

JW: Arie Haagen-Smit was one of the early scientists that worked in air quality in Southern California. He is the one that discovered the mechanism of photochemical smog back in the late 1940s or early 1950s, which linked smog in Southern California to engine exhaust. He came up with some ingenious methods for measuring ozone; he didn’t have all the equipment we have now. He was also the first chair of the California Air Resources Board. The award was established to honor him and those who follow in his footsteps. I received the award for my work in air quality science;  there are also categories for international contributions, policy, and control technology.

I’ve been working in air pollution in California for almost 50 years. California is one of the best air quality laboratories in the world, because it has such diverse terrain, populations, meteorology, and types of emissions. We’ve made some important discoveries over the last few decades. I would say probably the one we learned the most from was the Fresno Supersite, mainly because we kept at it for almost 10 years, from 1999 to 2007.

We had a large array of instrumentation out there, and this allowed us to discover some new phenomena. Probably the most important one from an air pollution control standpoint was seeing that the ammonium nitrate particles, which form from atmospheric gases, are created above the surface at night, then mix down to the surface after sunrise. The implication of this is that oxides of nitrogen emissions need to be reduced  throughout the entire Central Valley, not just in the cities where these emissions from engine exhaust are most intense. The Supersite provided opportunities to experiment with new technologies, try out new things, and interpret the data in ways that revealed new air pollution science.

To learn more about John Watson and his research, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/directory/4861-john-watson

To view his recent presentation from the 2018 Clean Air Leadership Talks, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFhwP72hU6g