Welcome to the UCCS Ozone Garden!
The UCCS ozone garden is a Green Action Funded (GAF) project that was established in 2016 at the Sustainability Demonstration House. Our ozone garden consists of four different bioindicator plants that help us identify the cleanliness of our air. There are several ozone gardens scattered across the U.S. and their purpose is to measure and collect air quality data in any given area. With this data, we can begin to determine whether or not there is a particular type of pollutant called tropospheric ozone (ground-level ozone) circulating the air we breathe and begin to find solutions.
Although ozone is invisible, its effects can be observed on the leaves of certain plants. Ozone sensitive plants develop symptoms on their leaves that we can see, telling us when high levels of ozone are present in the air around us. Because they provide this information, they are called bioindicator plants.
For further assistance or a guided tour, we encourage you to contact the office ahead of time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, what is ozone?
There are two types of ozone; stratospheric and tropospheric.
Stratospheric ozone (“good ozone) occurs naturally and acts as a sunblock protecting us from harsh ultraviolet radiation the sun emits.
Tropospheric ozone (“bad” ozone) is a secondary pollutant, which causes respiratory issues and other damage. Tropospheric ozone is a mixture of nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sunlight. When conditions are just right these three compounds are brought together to form ground-level ozone pollution. Perfect conditions include high temperature summer days with high levels of NOx and VOC’s being released into the atmosphere from burning fossil and using electric appliances (i.e. lawn mower, vehicle, air conditioner, etc.). The NOx and VOC’s that are released are then exposed to sunlight effectively creating ozone pollution at ground-level where we live and breathe.
Figure 1. Contrast between “good” and “bad” ozone.
How is data collected?
We currently collect data from our four different bioindicator plants (coneflower, milkweed, snap beans, potatoes) located in between the SDH and Farmhouse. Data is collected by analyzing the surfaces of the plant leaves. We look for stippling patterns (organized dotting) that do not cross the leaf veins. The more stippling the more ozone pollution.
We are proud to present our very own ozone monitor that will be in full effect starting in 2023. This will be utilized as a tool to collect supplemental data to accompany our leaf surface data. See below for more information.
What are pollution indicators?
Some plant species are more useful bioindicators than others, which is why NCAR has instructed all ozone gardens connected to their particular database to plant the same species. This also helps with the consistency and accuracy of our overall interpretation of specific data. As previously mentioned our ozone garden consists of coneflower, milkweed, potato, and snap bean (seeds supplied by NCAR). Bioindicator plants typically display a purple colored stippling, sometimes dark green or brown when negatively affected by ozone. Stippling occurs only on the leaf surface in organized patterns between the veins, not the veins themselves. Irregular patterns, holes, and vein crossings are indicative of insect activity or other disturbances. Below are some examples of ground-level ozone pollution.
Figure 3. Leaf stippling is indicative of ground-level ozone pollution.
What are the impacts of ground-level ozone pollution?
Ground-level ozone is an invisible secondary pollutant but is one of the leading causes of increasing disease, decreasing crop yields (causes plant stomata to close disallowing photosynthesis), damage to sensitive ecosystems, animals, water sources, and is the leading cause of respiratory disease in humans. Some folks compare inhaling harmful ozone to getting a sunburn inside your lungs, which is more damaging to individuals with preexisting respiratory problems, such as asthma.
Figure 4. Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog. Smog occurs more frequently in the summer time when temperatures are higher and the atmosphere is warmer.
How can we avoid ozone pollution?
Ozone pollution thrives on high temperature days, especially during the summer season. People naturally become more active during these times because the weather calls for it. We ride our bikes, mow our lawns, go hiking and driving, and more. Something we don’t often consider though on these hot, sunny summer days is air quality. The best way to avoid ozone damage on high ozone days is to do alter your activity times to an earlier or later time of day when the sun and atmospheric temperature are not peaking. Listed below are further steps you can take to lessen your ground-level ozone exposure.
Solutions to ozone pollution as suggested by the EPA:
- Conserve energy-at home, at work, everywhere.
- Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying a home or office equipment.
- Carpool, use public transportation, bike, or walk whenever possible.
- Refuel your car in the evening when it's cooler.
- Conserve electricity and set air conditioners no lower than 78 degrees.
- Defer lawn and gardening chores that use gasoline-powered equipment or wait until evening.
- Follow gasoline refueling instructions for efficient vapor recovery, being careful not to spill fuel, and always tightening your gas cap securely.
- Consider purchasing portable gasoline containers labeled “spill-proof,” where available.
- Keep car, boat, and other engines properly tuned.
- Be sure your tires are properly inflated.
- Use environmentally safe paints and cleaning products whenever possible.
- Mulch or compost leaves and yard waste.
- Consider using gas logs instead of wood.
Figure 5. The illustration above displays the formation of “bad” ozone.