Air Quality
Learning and


Typical ozone-induced foliar symptoms on plants native to central Pennsylvania are shown in the plants below. These species and others will be established in open-top chambers and gardens at the Air Quality Learning and Demonstration Center. By late summer of every year in central Pennsylvania, these symptoms are typical on plants of sensitive species.


Air Quality Learning and Demonstration Center Open for Walk-Through Visitors and Scheduled Tours


The Air Quality Learning and Demonstration Center, located in the northwestern section of the Arboretum, held its grand opening on September 12, 2003. The major objective of the center is to offer educational programs and public outreach about air pollution's effects on plants of the farm, garden, forest, and field in Pennsylvania.

The teaching pavilion is equipped with audio-visual and Internet capabilities so that classes can be held on site. Shown above are Biology 110S students touring the center as it neared completion.

Visitors may conduct a self-guided tour by reading display panels about air pollution formation and transportation, and by viewing research gardens and plant exhibits that demonstrate the effect of ozone on sensitive plant species.

For the most up-to-date information about the center, or to schedule tours for small groups, please contact:

Dr. Dennis Decoteau
Professor of Horticulture
College of Agricultural Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
Room 102 Tyson Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office: (814) 865-5587

How is the data being used?

Source: Howard Nuernberger
Dr. John Skelly speaks to guests about the effects of ozone on various plants in Pennsylvania at the Arboretum's open house in May 2001.

According to Dr. John Skelly, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, air quality monitoring stations like the one in the Arboretum provide information that is essential to understanding how air pollutants affect human health, agricultural crops, forest trees, natural plant communities, and material goods. This information is shared with the general public, and county, state, and federal agencies, and it is used in developing "National Ambient Air Quality Standards." Based on these standards, appropriate federal agencies and Congress take action to promote safe practices in industry and community planning.

From its location on the hillside above Big Hollow, the present air quality monitoring station obtains reliable readings of air pollutants trapped within the mountain and valley terrain. (See small white building to right of center in background of photo.)

Penn State's Department of Plant Pathology and support personnel from the Penn State Institutes of the Environment maintain six of these sites throughout central Pennsylvania with cooperative funding from the Bureau of Air Quality within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The site within the Arboretum is appropriate for this research because Centre County and the State College/University Park area are downwind of several major regional sources of pollution, and the immediate area is also a source of multiple air pollutants:

  • The meteorology of the area is characterized by several stagnant air masses per year that are under the influence of regional scale high-pressure systems. During the spring to fall seasons, frequent thermal inversions occur within the mountain and valley terrain, trapping air pollutants for extended periods of time. The resulting air quality of the area is characterized by a summer oxidant season that often extends from mid-April through late October.

  • In addition, an associated haze commonly develops from the long-range transport of aerosols and, in winter, from emissions of local wood-burning fireplaces. These local pollutants combine with atmospheric contaminants and deposits from source regions as far away as western Pennsylvania and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.

Center Complements Current Monitoring Site
Source: Howard Nuernberger
Visitors to an open house in May 2001 leave the monitoring station after viewing the instruments used to measure air quality.

"The Air Quality Learning and Demonstration Center will focus attention on the quality of our air as one of the most important resources we have in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania….This project (and developing facility) will combine the expertise which exists in several University programs into a center where students (of all ages) and teachers (grade-school through University level) will gain an understanding of the many important aspects of air quality."

— John M. Skelly, Professor
Department of Plant Pathology

Realizing the importance of educating the public about air quality issues, Dr. Skelly procured funding to expand the mission of the monitoring site so that it could become a comprehensive and interactive center. Sponsors include The Bureau of Air Quality, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Harrisburg; Allegheny Energy Supply of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Reliant Energy, Inc. of Johnstown, Pennsylvania; The International Society of Arboriculture; Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences; and The Environmental Resources Research Institute. Additional sponsors will always be welcome.

Support personnel include Mr. David Paar, MS candidate, Agricultural Extension Education; Mr. Jon Ferdinand, research assistant (air quality monitoring); Mr. James Savage, research assistant (bioindicator gardens), Environmental Resources Research Institute; and Mr. Richard Stevenson (meteorological station) senior research assistant, Department of Plant Pathology.

Source: K. K. Reeder
Students listen as Dr. Skelly fields questions from their classmates. At the rear of the pavilion is the pull-down screen available for PowerPoint presentations.  

Several methods are being used at the learning and demonstration center to convey vital information about the sources and effects of air pollutants:

  • Meteorological equipment is being used for both monitoring and demonstrating the presence of pollutants;

  • Cultivated gardens of numerous native plant and forest tree species known to be sensitive to various air pollutants (bioindicators) show visitors the effects of air pollutants such as tropospheric ozone on numerous plant species;

  • Various research techniques are being used in open-top chambers in which ozone levels are lower than in ambient air in order to demonstrate the effects of pollutants on foliar symptom expression, seasonal growth, and premature leaf senescence;

  • The facility includes a teaching pavilion where the most recent findings of Penn State's programs in air quality research will be made available; and the newest pollution abatement technologies and strategies being developed by industries and government agencies will be displayed; and

  • Interactive seminars and demonstrations are encouraged.



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