Arctic experiences air quality akin to ‘city rush hour’

Scientists at an Arctic research station have observed rocketing air pollution levels this month, saying the smog is now comparable to that found in the middle of a congested city during rush hour.

The team at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research on the Norwegian island of Svalbard observed the highest air pollution since records began last week, and are pointing the finger of blame at an unfortunate combination of adverse weather conditions and human activity in mainland Europe.

Monitoring instruments displayed significantly increased aerosol concentrations compared to those generally found and the researchers believe they have been transported into the Arctic atmosphere from Eastern Europe due to a particular large-scale weather situation.

The AWI’s Dr Andreas Herber told edie: “The reasons for this high aerosol loading event are forest fire in central Russia [combined with] a very effective transport to the European Arctic.

“The large scale weather situation – a high pressure system in the far North –

pushed the airmass [across Europe] more or less without pertubation.

“It was a temporary event and after few days the air was very clean again

over Spitzbergen.”

Usually the air is pure and clear above the French-German research station but at the beginning of May it turned to a deep orange-brown.

Confirming the observations of the German team, Swedish scientists of the Department of Applied Environmental Science at Stockholm University measured up to fifty micrograms aerosol per cubic metre air near the research centre.

Such values are usually only measured during rush hour in cities.

In addition, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) found extremely high concentrations of ozone above ground. With more than 160 micrograms ozone per cubic metre, these values are the highest measured since the foundation of the research base in 1989.

A specific weather condition has caused the record high air pollution and while increased aerosol concentrations had already been measured in the spring of recent years the arctic haze has never been this pronounced before.

Aerosols attract moisture and the droplets of water that attach to them then act as tiny lenses, increasing the power of sunlight.

“The present air pollution is more than 2.5 fold higher than values measured in spring 2000,” said Dr Herber.

“As a consequence, we expect significantly increased warming.”

Measurements have been taken by the centre for the past 15 years and are used to aid the ongoing investigation into the impact of aerosols on the climate.

“It is still difficult to estimate, whether this year’s data constitute the beginning of a common trend”, said Dr Herber.

“We need continued measurements in the course of subsequent years”.

Moreover, the scientists expect the detailed examination of the origin and chemical composition of the aerosols to yield further understanding for the current observations.

Sam Bond

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