Integrated Research Observation System for Clean Air (OSCA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: National Centre for Atmospheric Science

Abstract

"Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to Public Health in the UK" (DEFRA, 2017) and is consequently a focus of a range of regional and national policy interventions. However, since our transport systems, the way we heat our homes, our energy supply, our use of solvents and our agricultural systems are all changing, we know that profound changes in emissions and trends in air pollutants are likely in the coming years and indeed are already taking place. We need to understand our changing atmospheric composition, to ensure air quality policy has maximum benefit for the protection of human and environmental health.

The Clean Air: Analysis and Solutions Programme identifies the need for new capability to predict future changes in the sources, emissions and atmospheric processes responsible for air pollution. The OSCA project addresses this need through a multidisciplinary research activity, combining state-of-the-science atmospheric observations, laboratory studies, new data processing tools and integrated scientific synthesis to deliver new understanding of urban air pollution. OSCA will:

-Deliver improved quantification of emissions, combining lab measurements of brake & tyre wear sources, and measurements of the total fluxes of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from the BT Tower in London. Non-exhaust emissions comprise up to 70% of traffic-derived PM10, are poorly quantified, and whose relative importance will increase with UK fleet decarbonisation. Real-world emission measurements underpin air quality predictions and avoid dependence upon manufacturer data.

-Provide a definitive, state-of-the-science assessment of UK urban air quality through exploitation of the new RCUK-funded urban air quality Supersites in London, Birmingham and Manchester to deliver comprehensive, continuous and long-term measurements of atmospheric composition. These data will characterise the changing UK pollution climate, identify subtle emission trends during implementation of regional air quality policies, and provide a key resource for evaluation of ongoing trends.

-Develop new mathematical analyses to identify emergent trends / responses to policies and apply these alongside established methods to address key science uncertainties - e.g.: to assess the trends and changing sources of NO2; to provide definitive quantification of the contributions of non-exhaust traffic, woodsmoke and cooking activities to PM; to identify trends in and contributions to ammonia emissions; to identify changes VOC emissions - precursors to ozone formation.

-Provide data and infrastructure to underpin the wider Clean Air Programme, including development and deployment of novel sensor networks (QUANT); data to validate models and health effect calculations (InSPIRE and DREaM); insight into air quality response to policy initiatives (ANTICIPATE); sensor testing and pollutant source identification (APEx).

-Enable community mobilisation through intensive field campaigns, targeted at understanding the changing gas-phase reactivity climate of the UK atmosphere (which governs production of secondary PM and ozone), and the sources and chemical composition of atmospheric aerosols.

OSCA findings will support policymakers through a range of established relationships the PIs already maintain. These include engagements within the supersite host cities, and links to relevant national bodies, including Defra, DfT, DoH, PHE and the EA. The OSCA deliverables provide important new data and novel scientific approaches central to the assessment of future changes in the sources, emissions and atmospheric processes governing air pollution in the UK - the core of WP1 of the Clean Air programme. OSCA is fully embedded into the wider programme, informing policy decisions, monitoring the impacts of decisions, and feeding public health research and outcomes.

Planned Impact

OSCA is an underpinning proposal to the UKRI Clean Air Programme and will deliver significant impact through support for multiple projects, whilst also generating wider impacts in its own right. The main direct beneficiaries of the research are the agencies invested in the activities of the programme, national and regional policy makers and public health professionals. Since the Met Office and STFC are delivering the Framework for Clean Air Analysis in WP4 they are clear beneficiaries of the outputs. The key stakeholders at national level are the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Transport; and Public Health England. At regional level key stakeholders are the combined authorities in London; Manchester and Birmingham and Transport for Greater Manchester and Transport for London. PHE Consultants in the regions provide public health advice to regional government.

OSCA project outcomes result from PIs working closely with policy makers at regional and national level to identify key areas of concern. Emissions of NOx are of immediate and direct importance to UK air quality policy and evaluating on-going changes in emissions has direct policy relevance given the traffic fleet is changing rapidly. Whilst particulate traffic exhaust emissions are relatively well understood, the quantification of non-exhaust emissions that OSCA will deliver has direct benefit to national and regional policy making as the UK fleet electrifies and conventional exhaust emissions diminish. OSCA will provide policy makers with new information on the contributions to the urban mass burden from sources such as wood burning and cooking which can be used to base future decisions regarding PM control. OSCA will provide new data on urban ammonia and source attribution between agriculture and urban sources and so support policy makers in their prioritisation and strategies for reducing emissions.

Identifying the drivers of trends in pollutant concentrations and attributing changes to specific interventions and policies is extremely challenging, given the large number of confounders that exist. OSCA will develop approaches to tackle this problem, utilising a wide range of data currently available to assess the extent to which such causality can be attributed and will provide a framework for wider modelling work that will investigate this. Such tools will be widely disseminated for other stakeholders to use themselves.

OSCA measurements of the composition of air pollution, along with source attribution, will provide observational constraints to other projects within the Clean Air programme who are forecasting air quality, modelling policy interventions, assessing air quality sensor networks, measurement innovation, assessing exposure and identifying health impacts. The information and expertise from OSCA will therefore inform public health professionals investigating the health impacts of air quality in UK cities.

This work has the potential to generate significant impact with regional authorities in other areas of the UK, through the dissemination of findings, and the translation of tools. The project will seek out aspects of the research that have wider applicability to other cities and work to support decision-making more broadly in the UK.

Lastly, in many cases air quality improvements will not be delivered by policy alone but require public engagement, including technology uptake and behaviour change to deliver cleaner air. The willingness of the public to embrace change is very dependent on their knowledge of the problem, their trust in the solutions and engagement with the change process. By publicising our findings on local issues derived for example from local source apportionment, we have the potential to generate impact through region-specific public engagement, raising awareness of air pollution sources and the activities that drive emissions.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description A novel monitoring network for the measurement of VOCs in the urban environment has been constructed, based around the NERC Urban supersites. This has used a new Stirling cooler based thermal desorption system developed for this project. Measurements began in summer 2019, so no science result yet to report. The measurement methods has been identified as a candidate technology for a replacement regulatory network in the UK run by Defra.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Does exposure to air pollution increase the risk of dying from the coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact Contributions to a report by ONS on the impacts of air quality on COVID-19 mortality rates in the UK
URL https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/doesexposuretoairpollutionincreasether...
 
Description Environment Bill - environmental targets
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Environment Bill - environmental targets - cited in a Government policy paper
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/environment-bill-2020/august-2020-environment-bill-enviro...
 
Description Estimation of changes in air pollution emissions, concentrations and exposure during the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Leadership of Defra report on air quality changes during the COVID19 pandemic
URL https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/library/reports.php?report_id=1005
 
Description Evidence to Bill Scrutiny Committee House of Commons, Environment Bill
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Evidence provided to the Bill Scrutiny committee of the House of Commons during the second reading of the Environment Bill
URL https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/environment/stages.html
 
Description Evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee of the House of Commons
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Oral and written evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee of the House of Commons
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/823/default/
 
Description Impacts of Net Zero pathways on future air quality in the UK
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Defra report on the links between net zero policy and air quality
URL https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/library/reports.php?report_id=1002
 
Description Review of monitoring methods for VOCs in UK ambient air
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact Review and development of future methods for the improved measurement of VOCs in UK ambient air, part of regulatory monitoring undertaken by Defra.
 
Description Volatile Organic Compounds in the United Kingdom
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Review for Defra of Volatile Organic Compounds in the United Kingdom
URL https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/library/reports.php?report_id=1003
 
Description Defra Air Quality Expert Group 
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution NCAS and Defra undertake a long-term partnership to support the translation of air pollution science into UK policy and action by government and Local Authorities. This is facilitated by joint academic appointments and the long-term support of the Air Quality Expert Group, the independent source of advice to UK government on issues related to air pollution.
Collaborator Contribution Defra are the government department responsible for air quality in the UK and also the UK compliance with international obligations relating to treaties such as the national Emissions Ceiling Directive and the UNECE Gothenburg protocol. Defra provides financial support to NCAS for joint academic appointments and also provides secretariat services and support to AQEG, which is chaired by NCAS. In combination NCAS staff, through the air pollution programme, and Defra publish a range of scientific reports and advisory notes of air pollution that are used widely in government to inform policy and action, most recently the 2019 Clean Air Strategy.
Impact See multiple reports at: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/library/aqeg/publications
Start Year 2011
 
Title Designs for the calibration of OVOCs in humid matrices 
Description A design and software for an analytical device that allows the generation of low concentrations of polar OVOC compounds in ambient air has been developed. This has been licensed to an instrument manufacturer and is now offered for sale worldwide. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed Yes
Impact Licensing income of £60,000 has been received, plus an unkind donation of a new £200,000 mass spectrometry instrument
 
Description Air Quality Strategy to Reduce Coronavirus infection - All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation to an event: Air Quality Strategy to Reduce Coronavirus infection - The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Air Pollution
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://appgairpollution.org/2020/05/29/air-quality-strategy-to-reduce-coronavirus-infection/
 
Description Amid devastation covid-19 provides glimpse of a future with cleaner air. The Economist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Authored article : Amid devastation covid-19 provides glimpse of a future with cleaner air. The Economist
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://eiuperspectives.economist.com/healthcare/amid-devastation-covid-19-provides-glimpse-future-c...
 
Description Coronavirus: Lockdown prompts clear fall in UK air pollution. BBC report 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Coronavirus: Lockdown prompts clear fall in UK air pollution. BBC report
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52113695
 
Description Inside Science BBC Radio 4 programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview on Low emission zones, archived a podcast by Radio 4.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07vkkjh
 
Description Interview - BBC Radio 4 World at One - Low emission zones 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview - BBC Radio 4 World at One - Low emission zones
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description What we do and don't know about the links between air pollution and coronavirus. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact What we do and don't know about the links between air pollution and coronavirus - article via The Conversation, and reproduced via other outlets. More than 30,000 unique readers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://airqualitynews.com/2020/05/13/what-we-do-and-dont-know-about-the-links-between-air-pollution...