Stockholm university

From Sweden to Italy – measuring air pollution

A container filled with equipment used to measure air pollution will make its way from Stockholm University to the Po valley in Italy as part of a European climate research project.

Since November 2021, a light-blue shipping container has been placed in the back of the Geoscience building at Stockholm University. Those who follow the University on social media may have already seen the container – in the form of a gingerbread house. 

Left: the real container. Right: Gingerbread model.
Left: the real container. Photo: Paul Zieger. Right: Gingerbread model. Photo: Fredrik Mattsson.

In recent weeks, the container has been packed full with equipment in preparation for a field campaign to collect unprecedentedly detailed chemical and microphysical data on air pollution and fogs in the Po Valley in Italy. This field campaign is part of the EU-financed research project “FORCeS: Constrained aerosol forcing for improved climate projections” coordinated by Stockholm University.

Paul Zieger, Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, is one of the researchers who in recent weeks has been busy preparing the container and planning the shipment. 

On Monday, 31 January, the container will be loaded onto a truck that will take it to Italy. Three days later the truck will arrive in the Po valley and be met by Paul Zieger and colleagues from Stockholm University’s Atmospheric Science Unit at the Department of Environmental Science. The container will stay in Italy for about two months collecting data on air pollution and fogs. During this period there will always be a scientist from Stockholm University on location to take care of the instruments and do trouble-shooting.

The purpose of the field campaign is to study the physical and chemical properties of aerosol and fog droplets in the Po valley – one of the more polluted areas of Europe.

“The fog in the Po valley has changed over the last 30 years – it has reduced – and this is linked to air pollution measures and climate change. The data will be used for all kind of modelling, ranging from small to large-scale models. We are also using this opportunity to deploy and test new instrumentation used in atmospheric research. The site is especially interesting, since Stockholm University researchers have already studied fog there in the late 80s,” says Paul Zieger.

He also stresses that the mobile lab is really dedicated to studying aerosol-cloud interactions, how airborne particles influence cloud properties.

“The campaign in Italy will be its first deployment to study aerosol-cloud interactions, followed by a campaign on La Reunion in autumn/winter 2022 to study more marine and remote clouds and on the Swedish icebreaker Oden in 2023 to study the effect of warm air intrusions or anthropogenic influence on pristine Arctic clouds and its relevance for sea ice melt,” says Paul Zieger.

The researchers hope that the field campaign can provide more insights into the role of various atmospheric constituents on the formation of fog and aerosol particles and their removal and their role on human health. The data will later be used by various modelling projects.

The challenges in filling a container with measurement equipment are many.

“We started 1.5 years ago to plan this mobile lab. Designing the container and the set-up, purchasing instrumentation, etc. Right now, the challenge is ordering and getting all the parts in time – and installing them,” says Paul Zieger.

“This campaign is one of the three dedicated field missions to take place within the EU project FORCeS, which seeks to understand and reduce the uncertainties associated with the climate effects of air pollutants and clouds. We are impressed by the commitment and hard work by the FORCeS researchers who have been able to make this happen, despite the hinders caused by the pandemic during the past two years,” says Ilona Riipinen, co-coordinator of FORCeS and professor of atmospheric science at Stockholm University.

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