Air Quality in the BWCAW

Measuring Air Pollution Across the Forest

Monitoring the air and precipitation helps us measure air pollution. Along with monitoring the health of the Forest we can then determine when air quality is a problem and identify actions to reduce harmful effects.

Photo at air quality monitoring site 7-23-15

Poor Visibility Or Regional Haze

Unfortunately, the beauty of the scenes in our National Wilderness Areas can be diminished by haze. Haze can reduce the distance you see and even change the apparent colors and textures of the landscape. Recognizing the importance of visual air quality, Congress passed legislation to fix this problem through research and emission reductions from pollution sources. Natural haze caused by fog can decrease visibility, but the addition of air pollution makes visibility worse. Our air monitoring shows us that human activities impact visibility. The most important pollutants are sulfur and nitrogen.  Emission reductions (especially sulfur) since the early 1990s have improved visibility in the BWCAW by about 50% on an average day.

Acidity Of Rain And Snow

The Superior National Forest is home to one of over 200 sites spanning the continental United States, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands that sample rain and snow weekly to check its chemistry. Precipitation has higher than natural levels of acidity primarily due to human activities. Sulfur and nitrogen are the two main sources of the acidity. Sulfur pollution is primarily due to coal combustion while nitrogen pollution is from all fuel burning activities, and agriculture. Sulfur pollution has been decreasing due to state and federal air pollution control regulations, while the different sources of nitrogen pollution have shown mixed trends.

What You Can Do

  • Conserve Electricity and Fuels

Most air pollutants come from transportation and the generation of electricity. The more you can conserve and efficiently use fuels and energy, the better our air quality can be.

  • Learn About Air Pollution

Even if you live hundreds of miles away, your actions can affect the air quality here on the Superior National Forest and the BWCAW. The air that arrives here often comes from more populated areas to the south and east. The more you know, the more you can do to reduce air pollution.

Click here to learn more about air quality on the Superior National Forest.