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.

The Boreal Forest on a winter dayThe air quality cam is one way we monitor conditions in the BWCAW year-round.  Teh camera lets us see haze or clear skies.  Looking at archived images is a fun way to look back at snow accumulating during a winter storm, or watch thunderheads rolling in during the summer,.  Click to learn more and to view current and archived images.

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 air emissions from human activities reduce the visibility on an average day to about 60% of what it would be under natural conditions. We also know that, just as with acid rain, sulfates and nitrates are the main causes of poor visibility.

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 that falls here has higher than natural levels of acidity, but at this time, is not thought to be dangerous to the forest. Sulfates and nitrates are the two main sources of acid rain. Sulfate pollution is primarily due to coal combustion while nitrate pollution is from all fuel burning activities, especially automobiles. Sulfate pollution has been decreasing due to state and federal air pollution control regulations while nitrate pollution
has been increasing.

What You Can Do

  • Conserve Electricity and Fuels

Most air pollutants come from transportation and the generation of electricity. People are driving more miles each year and estimates say the U.S. will need 42% more electricity by 2020, so the more you use alternative transportation and the more you reduce electrical use, 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. The air here on the
dirtiest day in 2001 was over Texas 5 days earlier and picked up air pollution all along the way as it traveled to one of our air quality stations. The more you know the more you can do to reduce air pollution.

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