North Rhine-Westphalia: monitoring air quality

The Organisation

The State Agency’s Department for Air Quality, Noise, Vibrations, and Radioactivity is responsible for the survey of the air quality, including measurements, forecasts and information to the public. It contributes to mitigating measures (low emission zones, traffic restrictions, renewing industrial filter systems, etc.). It also implements European Commission directives on air quality and reports on the region’s compliance with them. The objective is to protect the health of the region’s citizens.

The Challenge

North Rhine-Westphalia has two distinct characteristics: it is home to Germany’s most important industrial sites as well as having a high population density of 524 inhabitants/km2. The region accounts for 28% of Germany’s nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions (e.g., caused by traffic) and 50% of industrial fine particle (PM10) emissions (such as soot or ash). Air pollution therefore is high and represents amajor health hazard.

Mitigating air pollution efficiently depends on correctly identifying its sources. However, until recently, the Department for Air Quality had relied on ground measurements and air quality modelling. To investigate supra-regional pollution episodes remained a difficult task.

The Satellite Solution

To monitor air quality efficiently, the Department for Air Quality obtains 3-day forecasts twice a day from the Rhenish Institute for Environmental Research (RIU). The information, visualised as animations similar to weather forecasts, is derived from satellite images, air quality model forecasts and measurements on the ground. Pollution does not stop at the regional border. Satellite imagery has the advantage of providing border-free air pollution data, thus allowing a better overall view on the progress of pollution episodes (such as forest fires, volcanic ash, etc.).

The Result

The Regional Air Quality Forecast provides more comprehensive information on air pollution and its causes, contributing to a better adaptation of mitigating measures. The visual quality of the forecasts makes them easy to understand for the general public, helping to inform citizens about air pollution on the state agency’s website and in public communications.

“The information is very helpful to identify PM10 exceedance days caused by long range transport. This is an asset for our duty to report to the EC. The comprehensive pictures of the forecasts help inform the general public.” Sabine Wurzler, Head of Department, Air Quality Modelling, Atmospheric Changes