Human exposure to air pollution is a significant global environmental burden. We carry out research into the emission of pollutants, their transport over local and global scales, the reactions that take place in the atmosphere, and their environmental fate.

By improving our knowledge of air pollution, we contribute towards improving air quality and reducing its impacts on people and economic development.

top of bt towerWe carry out research into four key areas of air pollution:


Emissions of chemicals to the atmosphere are probably the single largest source of uncertainty in predictions of air pollution for the future, especially from human sources.

Our focus is on evaluating emissions in real-world settings, for example taking measurements of the emissions from individual vehicle tailpipes or across whole cities, and using the FAAM aircraft to survey emissions on a national scale.

Finding out more about the emissions of pollutants will improve the UK’s ability to simulate air pollution through computer modelling, forecasting periods of poor air quality, and informing government policy.

Urban scale air pollution

Urban areas are one of the biggest challenges in understanding air pollution. It is difficult, yet vitally important, to predict how human exposure to air pollution varies in complex city environments.

We are improving estimates of how air pollution is distributed in cities using our new emissions data, high-resolution computer models, and fine-scale observations. This research can be used to support local authority action, urban planning decisions, transport policy and medical studies.

Supporting health effects studies

Air pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide can cause diseases including asthma, strokes and cancers. We use advanced measurement techniques and specialist facilities to investigate the exact molecular composition of pollution particles, contributing to medical research into what air pollutants do in our bodies and how pollution causes disease.

The next generation of medical research will inform government controls and regulations enabling focus on the chemicals and materials with the greatest health effects. Our measurements, modelling and analysis will support these advancements.

Interactions and feedbacks

Air pollution is transported by the movement of air, travelling across cities, regions and national borders. It interacts with radiation from the sun and the surface of the Earth. NCAS science looks at how air pollution depends on, and impacts natural processes, including the role of natural hazards such as heat waves, volcanic events, forest fires and dust storms in driving periods of elevated pollution and human exposure. Our research uses the measurement capabilities provided by the FAAM aircraft and the Atmospheric Measurement Facility to evaluate the production and movement of pollution from diverse sources across the world. Our measurements and modelling will help us to understand how air pollution contributes to climate change, and how climate change, and the policies aimed at limiting the impact of human activities on it, will affect air pollution.