Airborne pollution-scanning device maps Leicester’s air quality


University of Leicester physicists used their sophisticated air quality measuring spectrometer to produce striking “heatmap” style images of pollution levels in Leicester as part of the Airborne Air Quality Mapper (AAQM) project.

The images show how levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) vary around the city – revealing the differences in air quality between green, wooded areas and busy road junctions and areas of industry.

The results could help draw attention to polluted areas – and help inform future environmental planning decisions.

NO2 comes primarily from traffic emissions in urban environments and can cause health problems – including increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as heart attacks and bronchitis.

The European Commission is pressing the UK Government to find a solution to NO2 in large cities across the country. Large fines may be imposed and new legislation allows these to be passed down to Councils which don’t take urgent action to improve their air quality.

While not among the worst-affected cities, Leicester City Council is in the forefront of developing local and national solutions to this problem through collaborative projects with the University of Leicester and DEFRA. The aim is to develop smart traffic management schemes and reduce vehicle emissions.

As part of the process of developing advanced solutions to this national problem, scientists at the University’s Earth Observation Science group, based in the Space Research Centre, have used their world-leading Compact Air Quality Spectrometer (CompAQS) device to map air quality around the city.

The device monitors visible light – and measures how much light is lost at specific wavelengths absorbed by NO2. Development of the instrument took place with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and was funded by the UK’s Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation and the Natural Environment Research Council. The instrument is part of a major initiative to improve the UK’s technological leadership in space instrumentation for Earth Observation.

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