Atmospheric Environment

Air Pollution. Photo: NERI/Ingela Dahllöf

Air pollution has a variety of negative effects on climate, human health and nature. Climate is affected by releases to the atmosphere of particles and trace gases that change the radiation balance. Adverse health effects in the population are the result of short-term as well as long-term exposure to air pollution. Nature is affected by atmospheric deposition of acid gases and aerosols that in certain areas leads to acidification of lakes and terrestrial ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity may be the long-term results of high atmospheric nitrogen depositions that lead to eutrophication of sensitive terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Exposure to ozone affects the growth of the vegetation, and makes it more vulnerable to other types of stre

Societal impact and strategic research objectives

According to WHO (2006), air pollution is estimated to cause about 2 million premature deaths worldwide annually. This is in addition to other adverse health effects and believed primarily to be associated with airborne particles. According to WHO (2003), asthma and allergic rhinitis are increasing worldwide in prevalence and severity, and this may partly be explained with airborne allergens. Atmospheric nitrogen inputs have significant negative impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. According to EEA Dobris assessment (2003) critical loads are exceeded for more than half of the European ecosystems. Observations show accumulation of various persistent pollutants in the environment, even in the most remote Arctic ecosystems for which atmospheric transport play a main role.

Political and administrative frame

The management of air emissions, concentrations and depositions are legally defined in the European Directives, the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and its protocols and national laws. A number of environmental targets have been set for 2010, 2015 and 2020.

Main sub-fields and areas

  • Human air pollution exposure assessment with focus on airborne particles and allergens
  • Persistent pollutants and their fate in the environment
  • Atmospheric deposition of nutrients to sensitive ecosystems
  • The interaction between climate change and air pollution

Approach

Field studies of ambient air levels. A combination of field measurements and modelling work are done in order to understand and quantify the exposure loads to both humans and the environment and thereby address the proper regulations of the emissions. This also implies an ongoing development of both measurement methods and models. As many compounds involved in air quality and atmospheric loads have a transboundary appearance, the scientific society has a long tradition in modelling at a large geographically scale (European, Northern Hemisphere). Further this has caused a need of knowledge and standardization of emissions at these large scales. Locally anthropogenic air pollutions are associated with high densities of traffic, domestic heating and production and many of these sources have been regulated with the benefit of a better air quality. Still challenges are meet, among other things concerning the amount of particles and the aspects involving GHG. Pollution swapping is a challenge, since regulations have to assure, that the problems not are transferred to other areas. In the agricultural sector regulation of nitrogen is an example of a very complex set of pollutants interacting with each other, causing effects from eutrophication and acidification to emission of GHG.