Bluesky Maps Air Pollution over city of Leicester

July 02, 2013 -- Working in partnership with scientists at the University of Leicester, UK, aerial mapping company Bluesky has assisted in the completion of a project to map levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city of Leicester. By installing ground breaking pollution detecting technology on an air survey plane the Airborne Air Quality Mapper (AAQM) project was able to accurately capture and record levels of nitrogen dioxide across the east midlands city. The ‘heatmap’ style images were overlaid on Google Earth and revealed distinct differences in air quality between green, wooded areas and busy road junctions and areas of industry.

“This is the first time anyone in the UK has been able to use airborne devices to map pollution levels across whole cities,” said Project Leader Dr Roland Leigh of the Earth Observation Science group at the University of Leicester. Dr James Lawrence, Research Associate, who developed much of the AAQM instrument and flew with it during test flights added, “We have a world first spectrometer which shows where the major emissions are occurring – typically in industrial or heavy traffic areas.”

“Air pollution costs the UK government £20 billion a year and is said to be the second biggest threat to public health after smoking,” commented Bluesky’s Technical Director James Eddy. “By working with physicists at the University of Leicester we can help get an understanding of potential causes and contribute to monitoring programmes and research to minimise emissions in cities around the world.”

The AAQM project utilised the University of Leicester’s world leading Compact Air Quality Spectrometer, mounted on a dedicated aerial survey aircraft. The device monitors visible light and measures how much light is lost at specific wavelengths absorbed by NO2. The technology has previously been used as part the CityScan project with devices mounted on tall buildings in Leicester, Bologna and London during the Olympics to build 3D maps of pollution across the cities.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is part of a group of highly reactive gasses known as nitrogen oxides. NO2 forms quickly when fossil fuels are burned for example petrol or diesel in a car or natural gas in a domestic boiler or power station. There is clear evidence that high levels of NO2 can have adverse effects on health including increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and even heart attacks.

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