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Grants in Action: Portland State University

Researchers at Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon study models of the atmosphere for two reasons: to understand how aerosols influence global atmospheric conditions, and to understand how transportation choices affect the local atmosphere. The aim is to design changes that will reduce pollutants while still allowing efficient movement of people and goods.

With support from a Murdock Trust grant, PSU purchased a High-Performance Computing cluster for computation-intensive research into the effects of pollutants and transportation chokes on the quality of the regional and global atmosphere. In keeping with tradition in naming major research computers, this computer is called Gaia, after the Greek goddess of Earth. Gaia helped Christopher Butenhoff, assistant professor of physics and faculty member in the Center for Climate and Aerosol Research, and his fellow researchers to perform analysis on methane emissions in Earth’s atmosphere.

Gaia allowed Butenhoff and his fellow researchers to analyze stored air samples from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State dating back to the 1970s. From this data, they composed a three-decade uninterrupted record that constitutes one of the longest continuous records of the isotopic composition of methane, allowing scientists to study the trends of atmospheric methane over the years. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and can be found here.

According to the published study, “The research presents strong evidence that methane emissions from fossil fuel sectors were approximately constant in the 1980s and 1990s but increased significantly between 2000 and 2009. This finding challenges recent conclusions based on atmospheric ethane that fugitive fossil fuel emissions fell during much of this period.”

The Murdock Trust is proud to partner with Portland State University and other research institutions in performing important research to improve the world in which we live.