Air pollution predicted days ahead by forecast service

Service aims to benefit lung patients with warnings up to three days before air quality deterioration

The Centre for Climate Change and Air Pollution Studies  service aims to provide warnings up to three days in advance of air quality deterioration from such incidents as   the massive smoke plume from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in  Iceland in  April  2010.  Photograph: Arni Saeberg/Bloomberg

The Centre for Climate Change and Air Pollution Studies service aims to provide warnings up to three days in advance of air quality deterioration from such incidents as the massive smoke plume from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland in April 2010. Photograph: Arni Saeberg/Bloomberg

Wed, Nov 27, 2013, 09:06

Volcanic ash clouds, heat waves and other air pollution incidents across Ireland and Europe can now be predicted several days in advance by a new forecasting service on the west coast.

The Centre for Climate Change and Air Pollution Studies (C-CAPS) service aims to provide warnings up to three days in advance of air quality deterioration.

It has been developed by NUI Galway (NUIG), along with Met Éireann and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing.

The web-based forecasting, which went live yesterday, will benefit those with heart and lung conditions in particular who might be affected by even minor pollutants.

Central to the new service is the role of the university’s research station at Mace Head on the edge of the Atlantic seaboard near Carna, Co Galway.

The station’s location in the path of mid-latitude cyclones which cross the north Atlantic, but 88km west of the nearest major urban area, 150km from shipping routes and 80km from transatlantic air corridors, makes it ideal for air quality measurements.

Strategic locations

It is fitted with specialised instrumentation which is installed at strategic boundary locations around Ireland, and the station has been able to measure volcanic eruptions, such as the plume which emanated from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 and led to significant disruption of air travel across western and northern Europe.

The forecasts will provide a warning system and planning aid for potential large-scale air pollution events, like the 2003 heatwave which led to high numbers of air pollution-related deaths across Europe, NUIG says.

The main pollutants which can be identified are ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.

“Ireland’s location on the western boundary of Europe means that it generally experiences better air quality than other European counties and pollutant levels are typically below the level prescribed by the EU,” Prof Colin O’Dowd of NUIG has said.

“However, even in Ireland, meeting the World Health Organisation [WHO] guidelines, which are more conservative than the current EU regulatory limits, remains a challenge,” he said.

“ Given the lower WHO limits, the need for forecasts informing potential exposure levels and risks is pressing,” he added.

The forecast model is under constant development to improve predictions for the Irish environment. It is also being refined further to predict volcanic ash cloud dispersion, to advise the aviation industry and to assess air pollution effects on climate change.

The work on the new service was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Research Programme, with links also to the European Space Agency, Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authority’ s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutes.