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Impact on the environment

Impact on the environment

Air pollution falls in UK cities

Pollution data from 10 UK cities shows that nitrogen dioxide levels and small particle pollution are significantly lower than usual for spring.

Scientists from UKRI’s NERC-supported National Centre for Atmospheric Science based at the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory compared this year’s air pollution levels to previous averages over the last five years.

Nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter can cause severe respiratory problems and worsen existing conditions such as asthma, so any overall reduction in pollution levels will benefit public health.

Professor Ally Lewis, Director of Science at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science said: “In the midst of a respiratory health crisis such as this, better air quality can only have a small effect, but it will undoubtedly be positive, relative to business as usual levels of pollution.

The scientists used data from Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

UK seismic noise down by up to 50% during lockdown

People staying at home has a noticeable effect on the UK’s seismic noise, British Geological Survey (BGS) scientists say. BGS, a NERC centre and part of UKRI, has seismometers around the UK and, since lockdown began, they’ve recorded a 10-50% drop in vibrations.

The usual hum picked up by the instruments can be caused by road traffic, machinery and even people out walking. Dr Brian Baptie says the reduction in vibrations could mean seismologists will be better able to ‘hear’ earthquakes that are drowned out by usual noise levels, although the effect will be temporary.

UKCEH supports COVID-19 response with environmental data

The UK government considers real-time data on pollution essential to the ongoing evaluation of health risks during the pandemic because of the potential impact on respiratory illnesses, and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has provided emissions data and analysis as part of its National Capability programmes.

Air pollution levels during the lockdown period provide valuable evidence on how air quality might change as sources are reduced, for example as part of the UK’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

UKCEH has responded to a call from the Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG), an advisory committee to Defra for evidence on how air pollutant emissions and air quality have changed during the pandemic.

This included providing data and analysis on ammonia concentrations from Auchencorth Moss atmospheric observatory near Edinburgh, and other sites within the UK rural air quality monitoring networks. It has also provided evidence on changes in carbon dioxide and methane emissions in London, based on measurements from its observatory at the BT Tower.

Meanwhile, Professor Chris Huntingford, a climate change modeller at UKCEH, has contributed his mathematical expertise to a project, led by Oxford University, on modelling optimum strategies for releasing the population from the lockdown.

UKCEH has also submitted urgency grants to NERC for planned COVID-19 related research studies.