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Air Quality

Published on June 5th, 2017 | by James Ayre


Even Newer Air Quality Models Underestimate Traffic Related Nitrogen Oxide Pollution By Up To A Factor Of 4

June 5th, 2017 by  

A new study from the University of Innsbruck has found that even newer air quality models vastly underestimate real-world traffic-related nitrogen oxide pollution, by up to a factor of 4 according to the new work.

In order to measure the actual amount of emitted pollutants in a specific area “and to determine their overall source strength,” the researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences at the University of Innsbruck utilized “a special measurement method — the so-called eddy-covariance method — to continuously monitor the concentration of trace gases in air, which enables them to determine the emissions in an urban area.”

“We continuously measure the concentration of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds at our urban observatory in Innsbruck. We record 36,000 data points per hour,” explained head researcher Thomas Karl.

The press release provides more: “Using statistical methods, the scientists infer emissions from these data within a radius of about one kilometer of the measurement location. The analysis of the data of a three months long measurement campaign, which took place in 2015 … shows two main sources for nitrogen oxide concentrations in the Innsbruck air: traffic and residential combustion, with traffic accounting for more than 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions in the surroundings of the test station at the University.”

The mass majority of these emissions are related to diesel vehicle combustion.

“This result is relatively representative for the whole city,” commented Karl. Discussing the importance of the findings: “Even newer atmospheric models are based on emission inventories that underestimate nitrogen oxide emission levels up to a factor of four.”

So … yet another example of the enormity of the air pollution problem now facing Europe, and also much of the rest of the industrialized world. The potential, partial, solution would be to simply implement an outright ban of diesel vehicles in large urban areas, but such an approach would bring with it some problems relating to shipping costs, and no doubt some consumer backlash from those who own diesel cars (and were encouraged to buy them because of government support).

The issue is a serious one, though, so who knows what exactly will happen in the coming years as far as regulations and bans go.

As the press release noted: “in Innsbruck, for example, the average level of nitrogen oxide is 36 times higher than the new emission regulation standard laid out in the Clean Air Act in the USA.”

The new findings are detailed in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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