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The Metric

Jan 14, 2014

Toward a new generation of air quality monitoring

Roadside Air Quality Monitoring Station in Central, Hong Hong; Image Credit: Wikimedia/ Ahleong

The Air Pollution indicators in the 2014 EPI are the result of a collaboration between the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Columbia University’s Center for Earth Science Information Network at the Earth Institute, and the Asian Institute for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (AIEES). These organizations came together to work towards a “next generation” of air quality indicators.  This effort, which was launched in April 2012, aimed to identify investments and improvements needed in air quality monitoring and data to provide a future blueprint for better, more policy-relevant indicators. A more immediate aim was to design new air quality indicators for the 2014 EPI.

The initiative convened scientific experts and policy representatives to have a dialogue about the state of knowledge and policy needs with respect to air quality monitoring in Seoul in October 2012. As an Asian megacity with a population of over 10 million and home to over half of South Korea’s people, Seoul suffers from severe air pollution – both as a result of traffic congestion within the capital city and from transboundary sources originating from China and other parts of East Asia. The impetus for South Korea to cooperate regionally, therefore, could not be more urgent.

These regional considerations, along with investments needed to bolster on-the-ground, satellite monitoring and modeling to understand pollutant transport, were detailed for four pollutants – particulate matter, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), ozone and mercury. While particulate matter and ozone are currently being addressed by many governments in both developed and now, developing countries, POPs and mercury are complicated by transport mechanisms that mean their impacts are not directly perceived in the air, but instead embodied in food chains that eventually impact human health. For these reasons, many countries do not report national-level POPs or mercury emissions, although recent international developments through the Minimata Convention indicate future commitment on the part of countries to cooperate globally on mercury.

The finished report was published in a special issue of Atmospheric Environment in December 2013.1 Included are a series of background papers each focused on each pollutant, as well as a synthesis linking these measurement methods to policy. With this information and an eye toward the next generation of indicators, scientists and policy makers alike may take the crucial next step toward improving global air quality.

1 Hsu, A., Reuben, A. A., Shindell, D., de Sherbinin, A., & Levy, M. (2013). Toward the next generation of air quality monitoring indicators. Atmospheric Environment, 80:561-570.