City ‘supersites’ to boost air quality monitoring

More than £4 million is being invested in three urban air pollution research ‘supersites’ in London, Birmingham and Manchester, aimed at gathering high quality data on pollution sources in each of the cities.

The project is being led by the National Environment Research Council (NERC), which is coordinating with eight universities to set up and run the sites.

Air quality research ‘supersites’ will be located in London, Birmingham and Manchester

Investment will be used to fund a range of advanced instruments to detect individual chemicals contained inside atmospheric particles, to measure the size and physical properties of particles, and to identify volatile organic chemicals, nitrogen and sulfur oxides and greenhouse gases.

Researchers claim that the investment will provide the opportunity to detect harmful air pollutants and their sources in greater detail than ever before.

The supersites will also capture detailed meteorological information along with new measurements of vehicle emissions under real-world conditions.

All the data generated will be open-access and, for most measurements, will be available to the public via a website in real-time.

On top of NERC’s funding through the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport (DfT) has funded £600,000 for new training and research posts to work on the enhanced air pollution monitoring sites and vehicle emission testing equipment.

Science & Research Minister Sam Gyimah said: “The establishment of the air pollution research supersites highlights our commitment to improving air quality, enhancing our public health as well as tackling the growing threat of climate change to our environment. We have put research and development at the heart of our modern industrial strategy by increasing R&D funding by £2·3 billion to 2022 and these enhanced laboratories, spread across the country, will showcase our world class scientific expertise in developing solutions to global challenges.”


The consortia of universities to receive funding is King’s College London, University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of York, University of Cambridge, University of East Anglia and the University of Edinburgh.

Location of the sites at Manchester and Birmingham have been decided, with the Manchester site to be located in the Botanical Gardens on the Fallowfield Campus of the University of Manchester, while in Birmingham, the new air pollution equipment will be installed on the University of Birmingham campus in Edgbaston.

Two potential sites in London are currently being considered with a decision due in February following completion of technical assessments. The potential sites are the Defra North Kensington site and a research site at the King’s College London campus.

David Green from the King’s College London Environmental Research Group, who will lead on the project in the capital, said: “The Environmental Research Group has been running the only two research ‘supersites’ in the UK – in Kensington and Westminster. The proposed new site in London will help measure the physical and chemical composition of particles, the toxic gases in the atmosphere’s greenhouse such as carbon dioxide and methane.”

Greenhouse gases

According to NERC the investment will also cover sensors to detect air pollutants as well as instruments to detect a variety of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting chemicals which will be set up at a range of UK tall tower and coastal observatories run by the universities of Bristol, East Anglia and Edinburgh, and so help the UK also comply with legally-binding targets set out in the Climate Change Act.

Climate Change Minister Claire Perry said: “The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change, and monitoring our greenhouse gas emissions underpins the government’s commitment to the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement. Our Clean Growth Strategy sets out how we plan to reduce emissions through the 2020s, and further research into tackling air pollution will not only improve our health, it will help us meet our climate change targets.”

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