New fo­cus on air pol­lu­tion

Case study will be hard-hit Ti­maru

Rotorua Daily Post - - Nation - Jamie Mor­ton

One of New Zealand’s worst towns for air pol­lu­tion will be the fo­cus of a new study. While New Zealand’s air is gen­er­ally clean, many cities and towns — in­clud­ing Ti­maru — are blighted by poor qual­ity each win­ter as house­holds turn to wood­burn­ers to keep warm.

The lat­est data showed burn­ing coal and wood made the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion to an­nual lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM).

As these small pol­lu­tion-borne par­ti­cles hang in the air, they could be in­haled and in­crease the risk of ill­nesses.

But it wasn’t just house­holds to blame, but fac­tory fumes and smog from streets and high­ways.

Other nas­ties lin­ger­ing in ur­ban cen­tres in­cluded car­bon monox­ide, ni­tro­gen ox­ides and volatile or­ganic com­pounds — which could mix to form a trou­bling green­house gas called tro­po­spheric ozone.

The best way to drive down ur­ban pol­lu­tion, sci­en­tists say, is to first find where it’s com­ing from.

Air qual­ity ex­perts have pre­vi­ously done this through time­con­sum­ing, bot­tom-up ac­count­ing ex­er­cises.

“There are a range of air pol­lu­tion com­puter models that can take a pre­scribed emis­sions map for a city and sim­u­late what the re­sul­tant pol­lu­tion lev­els around the city would be,” ex­plained Dr Greg Bodeker, of Alexan­dra-based firm Bodeker Sci­en­tific.

“While know­ing the level of pol­lu­tion is use­ful, know­ing where that pol­lu­tion came from is far more valu­able since city of­fi­cials can then act to close down, or mit­i­gate, those sources.”

His team aimed to de­velop a new way to cre­ate maps of pol­lu­tion sources.

“The method uses mea­sure­ments of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the air around a town or city, a state-of-the-art com­puter model that can sim­u­late the dis­tri­bu­tion of air pol­lu­tion for given emis­sions, and a smart math­e­mat­i­cal tech­nique to in­fer emis­sions from mea­sured con­cen­tra­tions.”

Specif­i­cally, they’d use an ap­proach called in­verse mod­el­ling — which ef­fec­tively ran cur­rent models back­wards. This took real-world mea­sure­ments of pol­lu­tion and then in­ferred what the pol­lu­tion map must have looked like, while build­ing in the un­cer­tain­ties on the maps.

The goal of the two-year project, sup­ported with a mil­lion-dol­lar grant from the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment’s En­deav­our Fund, would fig­ure out pre­cisely how to do this.

“Small un­cer­tain­ties in trans­port path­ways of air parcels from their sources to where they are mea­sured can re­sult in large un­cer­tain­ties in the in­ferred pol­lu­tion emis­sions fields,” Bodeker said.

“This is the first time this in­verse mod­el­ling ap­proach has been ap­plied at a city scale and the first time that the goal has been to de­velop an op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity.”

The test­ing ground would be Ti­maru, which recorded some of the high­est win­ter-time lev­els of pol­lu­tion in Aus­trala­sia. Last year, the South Can­ter­bury town had 48 nights where PM lev­els crossed the thresh­old set by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO).

“After test­ing and prov­ing our new tech­nol­ogy through this project, we will ex­port it glob­ally through a newly es­tab­lished com­mer­cial en­tity as a ser­vice to megac­i­ties around the world that are ham­pered by poor air qual­ity,” Bodeker said.

“In this way, in ad­di­tion to tack­ling a do­mes­tic prob­lem of win­ter-time par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion in lo­cal towns and cities, New Zealand in­ge­nu­ity will be ex­ported glob­ally to ad­dress an in­creas­ingly ur­gent global prob­lem.”

Ac­cord­ing to the WHO, air pol­lu­tion causes 1.8 mil­lion deaths from lung dis­ease and can­cer ev­ery year. Un­less the world tack­led cli­mate change, fig­ures would rise by 60,000 glob­ally by 2030 and by 260,000 by 2100.

Other groups work­ing in the project in­cluded Niwa, En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury, Can­ter­bury Univer­sity, Otago Univer­sity, Ger­many’s Karl­sruher In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Wash­ing­ton DC-based com­pany Sigma Space.

Photo / NZME

Fac­tory fumes and smog from traf­fic­crammed roads add to air pol­lu­tion.

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