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Air monitoring project could bring Olympic legacy of cleaner air – University of Reading

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Air monitoring project could bring Olympic legacy of cleaner air

Release Date 25 July 2012

As the Olympics get underway, scientists are busily working around London in the biggest ever air monitoring exercise in the city's history.

The weather could make a crucial difference to whether pollution rises to significantly high levels during the Olympics - and current warm weather conditions are expected to create a build-up of smog in the days before the Games begin.

During the Games, meteorologists from the University of Reading will be among the team organised by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) which is taking part in an experiment to investigate how weather, chemistry and the amount of traffic all interact to affect air pollution.

The Olympics will act as a real-life experiment allowing scientists to investigate how changes in traffic density and traffic flow affect air pollution. By improving our ability to forecast air pollution, the effect of future changes to traffic patterns as a way of reducing pollution exposure can be assessed, potentially leading to an Olympic legacy of cleaner air for people in the capital.

Dr Janet Barlow, from the University of Reading, is taking part in the project. She said that while the wet summer weather might have been unwelcome, it has been helping to keep the air relatively clean. However, Met Office forecasts for warmer and more changeable weather in the weeks ahead suggest pollution could still be an issue for athletes, visitors and native Londoners alike.

She said: "The current sunny weather is a welcome departure from all the rain we've been having, but it brings with it its own problems. Met Office pollution forecasts are showing smog in London this week will be the worst it has been since May.

"Levels of ozone are forecast to exceed European and Defra safety thresholds - the threshold value for protection of human health, beyond which Defra advises adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, who experience symptoms, to consider reducing strenuous physical activity, particularly outdoors.

"One of the aims of the ClearFlo project is to be able to provide more accurate air pollution forecasts in the future, with less uncertainty about forecast pollution levels and information available for individual neighbourhoods, rather than just regions."

As part of the monitoring exercise, six shipping containers of equipment have been set up in the playground of a North Kensington school to monitor pollutants like ozone, which can exacerbate breathing and heart problems and which can build up when fumes from traffic exhausts react in hot, sunny weather. Particulates - tiny particles that can penetrate the lungs - are also being measured on the ground and by lasers scanning the London skies. The equipment is up and running from 23rd July to 17th August.

Equipment on the top of the BT Tower will be providing vital measurements of what‘s happening above ground and help to give a unique 3D picture of air flow, moisture and chemistry and how they control air pollution at street level.

The measurements are being taken as part of the three-year ClearfLo (Clean Air for London) project, and participants are hopeful that the Games will provide crucial data that could help planners to cut pollution across the city in the future.

"London is such a busy city that it's not often that we get a chance to measure the effect of major changes to traffic patterns on air pollution," Dr Barlow said.

"It would be wonderful if our work this summer contributed to cleaner air for millions of Londoners. That would be an Olympic legacy to really be proud of."


For more details contact Pete Castle at the University of Reading press office on 0118 378 7391 or

Notes to editors:

The ClearFlo project involves several academic institutions in the UK and includes meteorologists, atmospheric chemists and health experts. ClearfLo is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and is coordinated by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS).

The University of Reading is ranked as one of the top 25 universities in the UK by both the Guardian and Times university guides and is listed among the top 1% of universities in the world (THE World University Rankings 2011-12). Reading is home to both the world-renowned Department of Meteorology and the Walker Institute for Climate System Research.

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