Sunday 3 January 2010

Snowmobile pollution

I first came across this concept when I happened to read Selling Muskoka by the Gallon, by Michael Enright. (As accessed 8/5/2006). Mr. Enright (not the The Sunday Edition host) wrote that a PWC, a 2-stroke engine, for every day spent on the lake (100L of fuel), dumps 30 L of gasoline in the lake through inefficient burning of fuel. He has gone on to write another piece about snowmobile pollution: The Well Groomed Trail. Curious, my research took me to Haliburton County Collection Highland Cooperative research paper list, which cites a number of research papers. Predicting the effects of snowmobiles [PDF] is another frightening study.

Aside from the pollution, due to noise and chemical environmental affects, subnivean mammals are also impacted. These are small mammals such as rodents, shrews, squirrels and voles that inhabit the sub layer of snow during cold months through underground tunneling and nesting. An ecosystem is a fragile thing. As humans encroach on habitat, we loose the diversity that makes Muskoka special.

After contact with a new author, regarding Carol 'A Woman's Way, I became curious about snowmobile pollution. I know that PWCs are terrible noise and gas polluters, I wasn't sure about snowmobiles. I know that the smell of gas, after they fly by, is horrible.  In one hour, a typical snowmobile emits as much hydrocarbon as a 2001 model auto emits in about two years (24,300 miles) of driving. 
Amongst my research findings...
  • Two-stroke engines used in snowmobiles are sometimes the same engines used in personal water craft (PWC) like jet skis. 
  • PWCs have modified air and exhaust systems to adapt for water use. 
  • PWC seldom operate at temperatures below freezing (0° C) where snowmobiles typically operate at colder temperatures when all engines want to run rich.
  • Colder temperatures favor the production of carbon monoxide and warmer temperatures favor the production of unburned hydrocarbons (HC).
  • Two-stroke PWC engines dump 25 - 40% of uncombusted fuel in the lake, the air, or on the land
  • Snowmobiles emit a number of pollutants, including aldehydes, 1,3-butadiene, benzene, nitrogen oxides, fluoranthene, pyrene, and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
  • The best estimates available comparing snowmobile emissions to average automobile emissions conclude that a traditional snowmobile produces 10 to 70 times more CO and between 45 and 89 times more unburned HC than an average car (National Park Service, 2001 report on Impacts of Snowmobiles in National Parks.)
  • Snowmobiling has been shown to have various impacts on water quality 
  • Snowmobiling has an impact on aquatic ecosystems
  • Pollution from two-stroke snowmobile engines affects small lakes more than large.
  • Scientists studied crayfish finding that down stream had injested PCBs, DDT, DDE, PAHs
  • Snowmobile trails on farm land similarly leave emissions behind
  • Snowmobiles travelling over land transmit heat 5x's that of covered land.
  • Frost penetration allows pollutants to sink as much as 60 cm exploiting frost depths
  • A Quebec (1987) study found winter cereal crops affected by snowmobile pollution
  • When unburned fuel from snowmobiles accumulates in the snow, it is released into the ecosystem, primarily during spring thaw. 
  • Lubricating oil goes straight through an engine without being burned, expelled as part of exhuast.
As with Kyoto, and the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen 200, progress is slow and negligible. 
There is so much to do in Muskoka, aside from polluting.

Ethical Issues_with Snowmobiles [PDF]

The pollution from snowmobiles mostly consists of aromatic hydrocarbons, which are a class of chemicals that result from incomplete burning of oil, gas, wood, tobacco, garbage and other organic sources. PAHs are also emitted by inefficient wood furnaces, fireplaces, and leaf burning. The chemicals are of concern because they can affect health. The pollutants are linked to heart disease, breathing issues, and cancer.

The Pollution Prevention Information Center, Clean Snowmobiles: Background and Overview,
writes: On November 8, 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated regulations limiting air emissions from snowmobiles. These regulations required a 30% reduction in emissions beginning in 2006, with more stringent standards (requiring 50% reductions) effective in 2010 and 2012. The standards were challenged in court by both the snowmobile manufacturers and environmental groups and were vacated in part and remanded to EPA in part by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, June 1, 2004. EPA has not promulgated any standards for snowmobile noise.

Not all pollute as much as the old two-stroke engines, but old machines, like old cars, will likely be running a long time in this economic climate.

Area snowmobilers urged to be patient until more snow arrives ...

Anyone wanting to hit the trails and be green this year can climb aboard a more environmentally- conscious sled. The new Skidoo 600 H. O (high output) E-Tec is quieter and cleaner than your average snowmobile and "virtually smoke-free," according to Sean Ward, of St. Onge Recreation in Barrie.
The 120-horsepower sled uses the same technology that has been designed for boats requiring low emissions. "It's definitely better for the environment and it burns less fuel, so it's easier on the wallet," he said."We start it up in the showroom. We'd never do that with any other two-stroke."

In other international research: Pollution on Svalbard 
 And that slippery slope: do not take into account all machines, like Kyoto, you can buy your way out of caps through trade offs.

  • The reduction is a fleet average for each manufacturer depending on the number and type of engines used each year. 
  • The regulations have allowances for minor producers and special use (racing) snowmobiles. 
  • These cleaner, quieter snowmobiles have reduced audible noise by about half, reduced CO and HC by more than 80 percent, as measured using the EPA 5-mode emissions test protocol. 

If only the noise would stop!

 Further reading... 

  1. ET 10/02: Pollution reductions from off-road vehicles ... The final standards snowmobiles are particularly troubling because they fail  
  2. Animated Engines, Two Stroke Animated illustration and description of the two stroke engine 
  3. The Story of Smog Get rid of your gas-powered devices: Lawn mowers, chain saws and pretty much anything that runs on a two-stroke engine ...


Gaelyn said...

I owned a noisey, stinky snowmobile back in the 80s. Couldn't wait to get somewhere pretty and turn it OFF. You've really done a great job researching this Jenn. Seems like these kinds of toys can be made a bit more green.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Jenn: An interesting look at something we seldom see in Ohio. I know they are used a lot in the Mountains of PA.

Unknown said...

It seems way too early in the season for there to have been so many accidents!

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