Scientists are working around London in the biggest ever air monitoring exercise in the city’s history. The weather could make a crucial difference to whether pollution rises to significantly high levels during the Olympics – and current warm weather conditions are expected to create a build-up of smog.
During the Games, meteorologists from the University of Reading will be among the team organised by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) which is taking part in an experiment to investigate how weather, chemistry and the amount of traffic all interact to affect air pollution.
The Olympics will act as a real-life experiment allowing scientists to investigate how changes in traffic density and traffic flow affect air pollution. By improving our ability to forecast air pollution, the effect of future changes to traffic patterns as a way of reducing pollution exposure can be assessed, potentially leading to an Olympic legacy of cleaner air for people in the capital.
As part of the monitoring exercise, six shipping containers of equipment have been set up in the playground of a North Kensington school to monitor pollutants like ozone, which can exacerbate breathing and heart problems and which can build up when fumes from traffic exhausts react in hot, sunny weather. Particulates – tiny particles that can penetrate the lungs – are also being measured on the ground and by lasers scanning the London skies. The equipment is up and running from 23rd July to 17th August.
Equipment on the top of the BT Tower will be providing vital measurements of what‘s happening above ground and help to give a unique 3D picture of air flow, moisture and chemistry and how they control air pollution at street level.
The measurements are being taken as part of the three-year ClearfLo (Clean Air forLondon) project, and participants are hopeful that the Games will provide crucial data that could help planners to cut pollution across the city in the future.
Dr Janet Barlow, from the University of Reading, is taking part in the project. “One of the aims of the ClearFlo project is to be able to provide more accurate air pollution forecasts in the future, with less uncertainty about forecast pollution levels and information available for individual neighbourhoods, rather than just regions,” she explains. “London is such a busy city that it’s not often that we get a chance to measure the effect of major changes to traffic patterns on air pollution.”