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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

The impact of biogenic and anthropogenic atmospheric aerosols to climate in Egypt

PI: Alaa Ibrahim (American University in Cairo)
U.S. Partner: Allison Steiner (University of Michigan)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016

Atmospheric aerosols are liquid or solid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Often observable as dust, smoke, and haze, they are ubiquitous in the air. Aerosols come from natural sources (biogenic), arising mainly from plant debris, mineral and humic matter, and microbial particles, and manmade sources (anthropogenic), arising primarily from a variety of combustion sources. They affect the Earth’s energy budget and climate by scattering and absorbing radiation; modifying amounts and microphysical and radiative properties of clouds; and altering the intensity of sunlight scattered back to space, absorbed in the atmosphere, and arriving at the surface. Atmospheric aerosols represent a key uncertainty in the understanding of the climate system and climate change. While anthropogenic aerosols have been the dominant focus of climate studies, biogenic aerosols can contribute up to 30% of the total aerosol volume and could be more significant in densely vegetated regions. Burning of agriculture byproducts (such as rice straw in the Nile Delta) increases the aerosol loading in the atmosphere even further and together with other biogenic and anthropogenic aerosols would almost certainly impact the climate dynamics and air quality. Despite observable high concentrations of aerosols in the metropolitan Cairo area, little is known about the composition and spatial distribution of aerosols in Egypt and their influence on the climate and climate change. This project will tackle the issue of  atmospheric aerosols through providing a national survey of aerosol sources in Egypt, assessing their impact to climate, climate change, and public health.
The project will build human capacity through hiring and training junior researchers in collaboration with the U.S. collaborator. The resultant national survey of aerosol particles in Egypt and their impact to climate, climate change, and public health are directly related to developmental issues in Egypt, particularly in megacities like Cairo and in other industrialized and agriculture areas throughout the country. The project's educational and outreach component will enhance the formal and informal educational curricula covering climate and climate change and their broad impacts through programs that target teachers, school students, and the general public. Special efforts will be made to streamline and communicate the research findings and recommendations as well as the educational and outreach initiatives to stakeholders among legislators, local authorities, and government officials so they shape informed policies.

2-239 Data Collection

2-239 Cairo Pollution

Egypt Partnership Picture A

Project graduate and undergraduate researcher assistants while collecting data(Photo courtesy Dr. Ibrahim).Thick Air Pollution layer (anthropogenic aerosols) hovering over Cairo, illuminated by sunset light. Photo taken by project members from the Cairo Tower.PhD student Yasmin Aboel Fetouh and Dr. Alaa Ibrahim discuss Earth Observation Satellite data at the American University in Cairo (Photo courtesy Dr. Ibrahim).

Summary of Recent Activities
During this reporting period, the project participated in the United Nations Summer Academy on Sustainable Development that was held in Bonn, Germany during August 22-26, 2016. The project PI gave a presentation on the project results and conducted a session on "Fostering Experiential and Community-Based Learning in Sustainable Development Education." The session was attended by participants from Brazil, Afghanistan, Angola, Palestine, Senegal, Armenia, among others. The team also developed new collaborative ties with the OpenAQ (Open Air Quality, project that collects, standardizes, visualize, and share air quality data across the world and are discussing possible ways to share results through this platform. Public sharing and archiving of air quality data from Africa and the Middle East are currently missing.

Analysis of aerosol data from the satellite sensors MODIS and MISR, and the ground-based AERONET stations continued for the purpose of identifying the microphysical properties that affect climate and human health. The following tasks were undertaken during the reporting period:

Data Access and Manipulation
Monthly and seasonal averages of the single scattering albedo (SSA) and Angstrom exponent (AE) from MODIS over the entire country and three populated cities (Cairo, Alexandria and Asyut) were collected as well as aerosol extinction, absorption, volume size distribution, spectral phase function, spectral coarse phase function and effective aerosol radius (for fine and coarse particles).

Map Generation
Generated daily maps of SSA from MODIS over the entire country. The purpose was to identify where absorptive and scattering aerosols dominates. The team found that this parameter is not produced regularly over the Nile Delta region (including Cairo and Alexandria), which is the most crucial region in terms of air pollution. They found that successful generation of this parameter from MODIS is better over arid areas. The parameter is produced regularly over the deserts of Egypt and, upon checking the literature, the team confirmed the possibility of absorptive aerosols of desert dust.

Methods for Aerosol Type Identification
We used the aerosol optical depth (AOD) and Angstrom exponent (AE) from AERONET to identify three aerosol categories: desert dust, urban-industrial and biomass burning (still under test). Fractional contribution of fine mode aerosols to the total AOD is also used to identify the periods and the duration of this type. This is the type that has most serious impact on public health.

Aerosol type identification in terms of their absorptivity was conducted using the single scattering albedo from the two AERONET stations (in Cairo and El-Farafrah) as well as MODIS to study its spatial distribution over the entire country. Following established methods in the literature, work on using the spectral signature of AOD from AERONET and MISR has started with the goal to discriminate biomass burning and urban dust aerosols. A second idea under investigation is the use of the spectral variation of the single scattering albedo (or equivalently the absorption) to differentiate between aerosol types.

A notable challenge in using remote sensing to identify aerosol compositional types is the wide and overlapping ranges of any given key optical property (such as SSA and AE) between different types, with further dependence of shape and size. This renders identification of aerosols types only approximate. For this reason, the team plans to validate the findings about aerosol types using field data or existing databases in Egyptian environmental and meteorological authorities.

Project Webpage

Blue Skies Again video

Blue Skies Again video (Arabic)
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