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Making Wind to Track Air Quality

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 10, 2008

AIRMAP's wind turbine tilts with the flick of a lever.
AIRMAP's wind turbine tilts with the flick of a lever.

For seven years, the only air quality information collected on Appledore Island was gathered in the summer, while generators were running and classes were being held at the Shoals Marine Laboratory, jointly run by UNH and Cornell University.

It was the generators that gave AIRMAP, part of the Climate Change Research Center at UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, a way to power its air monitoring instruments. But understanding the differences between land and ocean data, between temperatures and air masses blowing through from other parts of the country, were challenged by not collecting data year round and, therefore, not getting the whole picture.

“This is a very dynamic system we live in,” Kevan Carpenter, project director for AIRMAP, says of air mass patterns in New England. “AIRMAP has been working to decipher how things change and what makes them change. But we’d only been able to use summer data.”

Then, in July 2007, AIRMAP built an 80-foot wind turbine on the far side of Appledore Island, not far from where the observatory is located.  In the year since then, the observatory has taken power from the lab’s generators only a handful of days, instead using the turbine and solar panels to run its air monitoring instruments. 

The wind turbine can been seen off in the distance at the far end of Appledore Island.
The wind turbine can been seen off in the distance at the far end of Appledore Island.

“From the sustainability view point, we’re off-grid. We’re not longer using fossil fuels to power the observatory,” Carpenter says.

The 7.5 kilowatt wind turbine generates enough power for an average size house. Carpenter says it all comes down to the size of a turbine’s blade size. The one on Appledore has 11-foot blades, relatively small when it comes to making wind. But the turbine is big enough for AIRMAP’s needs, and fits with the island landscape.

AIRMAP is just starting to evaluate the data collected from Appledore Island during the last year.

“This will give us a better understanding of the seasonal air quality changes and improved understanding of how the marine environment impacts our air quality and climate,” Carpenter says.

In addition to the Isles of Shoals, AIRMAP has observing stations at Pack Monadnock, Peterborough; Mount Washington; two at Thompson Farm, and one on Smith College property in Whately, Mass.

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