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Computer model helps combat air pollution across Europe


The key role of multidisciplinary research in developing a landmark intergovernmental strategy to combat air pollution across Europe will be considered by Professor Helen ApSimon of Imperial College London in her inaugural lecture, A lot of Hot Air – Transboundary Air Pollution Over Europe.

The new Professor of Air Pollution Studies will focus on how her research using computer modelling of air pollution contributed to the formulation of the Gothenburg protocol under the United Nations’ Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

“The UN’s Convention successfully addresses a complex combination of pollutants with wide ranging effects,” said Professor ApSimon, who is based in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology.

“It has contributed to the development of international environment regulations and has created the essential framework for controlling and reducing the damage to human health and the environment caused by transboundary air pollution.”

The Gothenburg protocol, introduced in 1999, calls for cuts in emissions from four major pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia, by 2010, from their 1990 levels.

Once fully implemented, it is estimated the Protocol will reduce premature deaths resulting from ozone and particle matter exposure by approximately 47,000. The European treaty should also ensure over the next 15 years sulphur pollution from factories and power stations will drop to around 10 per cent of 1980 levels.

Working extensively over the past 12 years for Task Forces under the UN’s Convention, Professor ApSimon initially conducted independent modelling to analyse emission reduction strategies and develop cost effective solutions.

“By having an independent model we were able to examine many ‘what if’ scenarios and investigate assumptions and uncertainties,” said Professor ApSimon.

“We also did a lot of work on ammonia as a pollutant, for which the uncertainties were much greater. In this way we contributed to far more robust proposals for emission reductions as a basis for negotiation between member countries.”

Data collected from Professor ApSimon’s model was then collated with information yielded from the official UN model to create an ‘Integrated Assessment Model’. This created a fuller picture of potential emission reduction strategies by comparing the costs and benefits for different countries.

“Integrated assessment modelling integrates information on pollutant sources and emissions, the pattern of atmospheric transport of those emissions across Europe to affect sensitive ecosystems and the criteria for protecting these sensitive targets. From this information the models derive emission reductions across the different countries which meet targets for improved environmental protection at minimum cost,” explained Professor ApSimon.

“This approach is now being adopted enthusiastically by the European Commission, and I hope I will contribute to reaching agreement on other international pollution problems.”

Professor ApSimon added: “I feel honoured to have been appointed to this rank at Imperial College, and thankful to the wide range of people with whom I have worked with from very different scientific disciplines, who have helped me to achieve it.”

Judith H Moore | alfa
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