Research: Commission satellite project detects urban air pollution from space

October 4, 2002

Brussels, 3 October 2002

Fine particulate matter is now one of the biggest threats to human health from air pollution. A new technique to monitor the concentration of particulate matter in urban air, using satellite-borne sensors, offers a much more cost-effective approach than traditional land-based monitoring.

The first trials of this system, developed by 11 partners in the European Commission-funded ICAROS-NET (Integrated Computational Assessment of urban air quality via Remote Observation Systems NETwork) project, will be presented in Athens on 15 October 2002. ICAROS-NET runs for three years from September 2001.

The satellite-borne sensors will monitor atmospheric pollution at very high resolution in areas as small as 30 metres in diameter, by measuring the proportion of light blocked by particulate matter. Preliminary mapping shows that over the 1987-2002 period Aerosol Optical Thickness (AOT), a measure of the optical effect of particulates in the atmosphere, steadily grew in Athens. Results will help improve environmental policy making in Europe and the effectiveness of international environmental treaties.

"ICAROS-NET will provide for a user-friendly system to assess air quality. It will be of great help to public authorities for taking the right decisions in the environmental field" said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "It will simplify the integration of data from different sources, including from future monitoring tools, presenting consistent information to policy-makers. Across Europe, the integration of air quality data sourced from satellite sensors will help to better measure and reduce pollution. This project is an excellent example of the types of services that could become available as a result of the EU Commission's initiative for building a Global Monitoring for Environment and Security capability (GMES)."

The Commission is leading a team of ten other partners, from Greece, Germany, Hungary and Italy, on the three-year ICAROS-NET project to develop an intelligent networked system to monitor and manage air quality. This will be flexible enough to be used at urban, regional and cross-border levels. Given the need for co-ordinated international action to resolve environmental problems linked to air pollution, the ICAROS-NET system will be capable of use by all EU Member States and applicant countries in central Europe.

ICAROS-NET will use four areas as test-beds to validate the system. Athens (Greece) is the first, an urban area with major pollution problems. Further tests will take place on the urban scale in Budapest (Hungary) and Munich (Germany), and at the regional level in Lombardy (Italy). In addition to validating the measurement capabilities of the system, the trials will also evaluate the performance of the telematics network designed to allow integrated monitoring and forecasting of air pollution across the whole EU.

Sensors carried on satellites can provide both an assessment of the health of vegetation in the surveyed area, and the quantity of particulate matter in the atmosphere. By integrating the information measured by satellite sensors with data derived from ground-based measurements, and computer-based pollution dispersion models, ICAROS-NET will be able to provide a consistent picture of air pollution over a wide geographic area. The information obtained can then be input to a fully interoperable urban environmental management decision support system. This information will be shared across Europe.

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DN: IP/02/1421 Date: 03/10/2002

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