Wet weather could have delivered clean Olympic Games
9 August 2012
The UK's appalling summer of weather so far could have had an unexpected benefit for Olympic athletes and spectators - it could have delivered one of the least polluted Games in history, according to researchers.
Atmospheric scientists are piloting up to eight flights around London, which started in the past month and will continue over the coming weeks, to measure carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and aerosol levels. They found that the long periods of stormy weather and low pressure have resulted in excellent air quality.
As the wet weather continued into the Games, this could mean that the London Olympic Games will be one of the cleanest in recent times.
The University of Manchester atmospheric scientists and partners from the Met Office, other UK universities, NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science, and other agencies around the UK, have been monitoring air and ground pollution levels over the past two years as part of ClearfLo (Clean Air for London) - a collaborative scientific project to provide long-term measurements of London's urban atmosphere.
They are monitoring carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone - key markers of pollution and a hazard to health - and harmful aerosol levels in the atmosphere, as well as other chemicals in the atmosphere, and trying to establish what happens to urban pollution and to where it goes.
Early results have shown that lengthy periods of low pressure which have affected the UK for much of the summer have meant that pollution has not settled over the capital but instead has been moved offshore. High pressure areas, typical of warm, sunny weather, trap in pollution and do not allow it to leave.
The airborne component of ClearfLo, led by Dr Grant Allen from The University of Manchester, took to the skies in one of the UK's dedicated research aircraft which can provide real-time data on pollution levels.
Since the Olympic no-fly zone was put in place, the flights have concentrated on the areas outside the M25, measuring the air quality going in and out of the capital.
Dr Allen said, "Put simply, the reason the air quality is so good is because the weather has been so bad this summer.
"The areas of low pressure have left us with very clean air, unusually clean for summer months over the UK. The pollution that is generated moves away in the evenings and goes in a variety of directions depending on wind direction.
"A change in the weather, such as that seen in the week leading up to the opening ceremony, could bring pollution levels back closer to the norm but the processes by which this happens are exactly what we are aiming to study during ClearfLo.
"We have monitored the pollution levels closely during the Games to look for a tell-tale shift in the pollution regime. As a result of this combined study, we hope to be able to more accurately predict air quality for London in the future, as well as a better understanding of how London pollution affects those downwind.
"With more accurate predictions, we can hope to mitigate the known health impacts associated with poor air quality. The Olympics provided an excellent case study for us as traffic levels and activity were closely monitored and quantified.
"By sampling the air going into and coming out of London with the aircraft, and using measurements on the ground within the city itself, we can say something about what was added to the air as it passed over London and what this means for those living downwind."
Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), ClearfLo also involves a number of scientists on the ground, measuring levels in and around the Olympic Park and other major London venues.
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1. ClearfLo is coordinated by NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science. As well as The University of Manchester, other UK institutions involved in ClearfLo are:
- University of Reading
- King's College London
- University of Birmingham
- University of York
- University of Leeds
- University of Hertfordshire
- University of East Anglia
- University of Leicester
- NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Edinburgh)
- Met Office
ClearfLo is an accredited programme within the Living With Environmental Change partnership.
2. The Atmospheric Research Aircraft is a BAe-146 which is managed by NERC and the Met Office through the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM). The aircraft is owned by BAE Systems and operated by Direct Flight Ltd. This flying laboratory is fitted with highly sophisticated scientific equipment that measures wind speed, temperature, humidity, the composition of particles in clouds, and other atmospheric properties. It makes research flights across the world to investigate weather, climate and the environment for the UK atmospheric research community.
3. The Met Office provide forecasts of daily air quality index to provide advice on expected levels of air pollution, which can have short-term effects on our health. The forecasts are provided to enable the public to understand the level air quality and the impact this could potentially have. The Met Office daily air quality index provides information for each of over 5,000 sites and goes out to five days ahead.
4. The University of Manchester Centre for Atmospheric Science is an internationally leading research group of over 40 academic and research staff involved in the measurement and modelling of the Earth's atmospheric composition and dynamics. It has a long history in airborne measurement all over the world, contributing to weather and climate modelling activities and instrument development.
5. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, food security, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC receives around £300m a year from the government's science budget, which it uses to fund research and training in universities and its own research centres.
Press release: 21/12
- ClearfLo Project
- BBC News
- Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements
- Met Office
- National Centre for Atmospheric Science
- The University of Manchester
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