Air quality is a central topic of environmental agencies on all administrative levels within the EU. Pollutants emitted by traffic and industry as well as agriculture and private heating cause increased levels of air pollution especially in densely populated areas. This leads to increased health risks especially for sensitive people. Each summer the media warn about elevated ozone levels. This does not refer to the ozone layer where such values would be desirable but to the very air we breathe. Increased ozone concentrations near the surface can be harmful to the health of humans for example by irritations of the respiratory tract. Ozone may also lead to damages in plants resulting in lower crop yields. Other trace gases like particulate mater or nitrogen oxides can also be harmful to human health.
In close collaboration with scientists of the medical center of the LMU Munich researchers from the German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) are analyzing the impact of air quality on the course of chronical respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology the objective is to develop a health index allowing patients to judge their personal risk related to air quality.
The current state of air pollution is usually determined using ground-based measurement stations. In order to forecast air pollution levels and to assess air quality on a larger scale models are becoming more and more important. In the framework of the European GMES (Global Monitoring of Environment and Security) projects PROMOTE and PASODOBLE scientists at DLR have been improving the forecast skill for Bavaria and the Northern Alps since 2006 utilizing latest data sources and methodologies. The system POLYPHEMUS/DLR delivers daily forecasts of air pollution for the following three days.
POLYPHEMUS/DLR computes the transport of trace gases within the atmosphere and the chemical reactions between the different constituents of the air. This requires a calculation of the meteorological situations for the forecasting period. The wind largely controls the transport of pollutants. Other meteorological factors like precipitation or solar irradiation influence the chemical reactions. Further important processes are the emission of pollutants by anthropogenic and natural sources and the deposition of trace gases on the ground.