Pollution probe to cover whole city

Environmental scientists at the University of Leicester have developed a device that can measure air pollution across an entire city.

The city-scale instrument does away with the need for monitoring stations dispersed across a wide area, collecting data from a single point.

The novel piece of kit has been installed on the roof of the university’s space research center and measure pollution by trapping sunlight then working out how much of it has been absorbed by air-borne pollutants.

Just the size of a suitcase, the compact device has nine telescopes radiating out in different directions so it can ‘see’ the sun light all over the city.

Crucially for Leicester, the instrument can measure levels of nitrogen-dioxide in the air, a pollutant produced by traffic and one which poses a particular problem for the air quality in the city centre.

Dr Paul Monks, lead scientist on the project said, “90% of the nitrogen dioxide problem in Leicester is attributable to road traffic.

“Because our instrument looks at the whole city, it can identify when and where the pollution hotspots will occur during a typical day.

“The level of detail we have seen is remarkable. For example, one Saturday we could pin-point the cause of air pollution to a football match, owing to the increased volume of traffic.

“On hot, sunny days when the air is still, such pollution could pose real health problems to residents.”

The equipment has been developed by the university with the support of the Natural Environment Research Council Centres for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the team who have put it together are hoping the technology will be of particular use to local authorities in the UK, all of whom are required to review and assess local air quality to ensure objectives for key pollutants are being met.

Its development is particularly timely given the predictions for more UK summer heatwaves with future climate change, and their potentially deleterious effect on air quality in urban areas.

“We will certainly be making this instrument available to Leicester City Council to help it design its current air quality action plan” said Dr Paul Monks.

With the instrument already a proven success, its developers are hoping to widen its scope so it can cover more than a single city.

The scientists plan to mount it on a satellite next year, where it can keep an eye on global pollution too.

By Sam Bond

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