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Challenge 3: Improve the prediction of human exposure to air pollution

Air pollution has been an adverse environmental consequence of human activities since the industrial revolution and despite very great improvements remains a major science challenge to predict and control. Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7-8 months and cost the UK in excess of £20 bn per year. Pollutants such as ozone also damage plants and reduce crop yield whilst man-made particulates and aerosols affect cloud properties, radiation and climate. Air quality science is therefore an integral part of the science of public health, of weather and the climate system. Despite the significant financial and social impacts of poor air quality significant scientific gaps exist in our ability to explain recent trends in both urban and background pollutants. For example, in many locations particulate (PM10) and NO2 concentrations are no longer declining despite increasingly stringent emissions controls. On wider scales we do not yet have a robust knowledge of how future climate will impact on air quality in Europe, nor how widespread hemispheric increases in ozone will affect the oxidising capacity of the rural and urban environment.



  • Assess how atmospheric composition varies over space scales from the street canyon to continents and understand how processes operating on these various scales interact.
  • Quantify the changing background in atmospheric composition and the effects of this in controlling future air quality.
  • Predict the frequency and severity of poor air quality events
  • Reduce uncertainty in the chemical and physical mechanisms associated with aerosol and particle formation and transformation
  • Improve estimates of key biogenic and anthropogenic atmospheric emissions that influence both background and localised air quality
  • Assess the adequacy of existing observation networks and air quality prediction models