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How toxic is your city’s air? Pioneering project to help measure pollution of urban atmosphere

Posted December 1, 2014
PhD student in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy Jordan White

PhD student in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy Jordan White

Arguments about which UK city has the most polluted air could be put to rest once and for all thanks to a landmark new project that uses state of the art techniques to measure air pollution in city environments and the dangers posed to people exposed to it.

Using an airborne mapping system developed by scientists at the University of Leicester, integrated with ground-based sensors, a PhD student within the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is aiming to improve reporting of air pollution levels to provide a quantitative understanding of the levels of nitrogen dioxide around a given city.

Jordan White, who is currently studying for his PhD in atmospheric physics at the University of Leicester, is sponsored by aerial mapping company Bluesky and will be using the novel system to record in fascinating detail the effects pollution is having in cities during people’s day-to-day lives.

He said: “By exploring the complex concepts of gas-phase tomography we can retrieve 3D structures of pollution. This combined with improvements in the performance and integration of the monitoring systems gives us a much better understanding of the levels and movement of air pollution in our cities.”

Dr Roland Leigh, academic supervisor at the University of Leicester added: “Air Quality continues to be a critical issue in our society, requiring innovative solutions to both measure and reduce pollutant concentrations. This project builds on key academic expertise in instrument design and data manipulation, and once again benefits from a strong industrial partnership with Bluesky.”

The PhD project will build on results from previous trials of the University of Leicester’s world leading Compact Air Quality Spectrometer. Mounted on a dedicated aerial survey aircraft the device monitors visible light and measures how much light is lost at specific wavelengths absorbed by NO2.

The technology has previously been used as part the CityScan project with devices mounted on tall buildings in Leicester, Bologna and London during the Olympics to build 3D maps of pollution across the cities.

The project will also use data from a network of low cost ground based air quality sensors, sponsored by Bluesky, and additional geospatial information including Bluesky’s 3D building models and National Tree Map data.

James Eddy, Bluesky’s Technical Director and Industrial Associate at the University of Leicester, said: “The latest stage in the research into air pollution modelling is designed to improve the way the monitoring systems work together in order to measure pollution levels as well as looking at vertical mixing ratios of air in cities and the potential impact of buildings and trees.”

Source: University of Leicester

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