Air Quality

Investigating the sources and process that result in air pollution.

Why air quality?

Air pollution is a human carcinogen (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2013). Air pollution is defined as increases in the levels of gases, particles, fumes or odour in amounts harmful to the health or comfort of humans, or which cause damage/detrimental effects to the environment. In Australia air pollution is estimated to be responsible for 3000 premature deaths per year (Begg et al., 2007). This is almost three times more than the national annual road toll. The health costs of air pollution is estimated to exceed $4 billion per year in NSW alone (NSW EPA, 2012).

We have a strong track record of engagement with the stakeholders in the study and regulation of air quality. These include federal, state and local governments, industry and universities.

We have core capabilities in observing and modelling air quality. This includes state-of-the-art instrumentation and models.

Health Impacts

We work with health researchers to understand the impact of air pollution on human health. For example we worked closely with public health researchers in NSW to investigate the mortality effect of primary and secondary PM2.5 related to ship exhaust in the Sydney greater metropolitan region of Australia (Broome et al.  2016) and showed that an estimated 220 years of life were lost by people who died in 2010/2011 as a result of exposure to ship exhaust.  We also worked with epidemiologist in Victoria to investigate the link between exposure to PM2.5 from fires and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in Melbourne, finding an almost 24% excess out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occured during periods effected by bushfire smoke in the 2006/2007 fire season (Dennekamp et al., 2014).

PM source apportionment

We work closely with collaborators to understand the sources of particles in an airshed. Recent projects include Brooklyn Particle Characterisation Study, Upper Hunter Particle Characterisation Study, Lower Hunter Particle Characterisation Study, where we worked with collaborators at ANSTO to collect PM samples, perform chemical analysis in our state-of-the-art laboratories and analyse the data using positive matrix factorisation (PMF) to quantify the contribution of different sources of PM the particle load. The results of these studies have been used to address community concern about air pollution for example, the role of the coal industry to particulate pollution in the Hunter Valley of NSW.

Sydney on a fine day. Although the bridge is visible, the view of the mountains in the background is attenuated by atmospheric pollution.

Air quality modelling

Our state-of-the-art air quality modelling capability includes tools that address air quality issues from local to regional scale. Most of the tools we use have been developed in-house or directly with our collaborators. Regional and local meteorological fields needed for air pollution transport calculations are obtained through prognostic models, namely ACCESS, CCAM (CSIRO’s Conformal Cubic Atmospheric Model) and TAPM (CSIRO’s The Air Pollution Model), while the dispersion, transport and pollution transformational processes are modelled using CTM (CSIRO’s Chemical Transport Model), TAPM, and Lagrangian particle and analytical models.

We have conducted numerous studies using the above tools, for example air quality and climate change, Hazelwood mine fire, woodheater smoke, and air quality in coal seam gas areas. Some of our modelling systems have been put together for specific operational use, targeting a particular problem as defined by national needs, and/or by our collaborators and clients (e.g. smoke forecasting system, air quality forecasting system, pollen forecasting system).

A recent activity is the development of a Bayesian inverse modelling capability for emission quantification at both local (using a Lagrangian particle approach) and regional scale (with TAPM), which has been for carbon geo-sequestration sites and coal seam gas areas in Australia.

Other areas we are presently conducting research into are:

  • Determination of emissions, for example those from biogenic processes (e.g. isoprene from Australian eucalyptus) and biomass burning, which are an important input to air quality determination.
  • Thunderstorm asthma and pollen
  • Air quality, exposure and health
  • Indoor and urban air quality
  • Inverse modelling for emissions from biomass burning
  • Communication of the science and sources of air pollution

Some of our modelling tools are used by other groups. For example, TAPM has been used under licence by ~ 250 national and international users in 28 countries.

Our air quality research is used by energy, health, environment, and regulatory bodies, and also by private consultants, and is widely published in scientific journals.