We have implemented a colour-coded rating system that ranges from ‘very good’ to ‘very poor’. Accurate information of this type will no doubt be valuable to individuals who are particularly sensitive to air pollutants...
German citizens can now check levels of ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide with Air-InfoLine: a new ‘chemical weather forecast’…
Dr Hermann Jakobs
Will air quality across Southern Bavaria be good or poor tomorrow morning? Will there be high levels of particulate matter over Baden-Württemberg? It’s now possible to answer such questions with the help of Air-InfoLine: an online ‘chemical weather forecast’ developed by researchers at the University of Cologne.
Air-InfoLine is a new tool that forecasts upcoming levels of ozone (O3
), particulate matter (PM10
) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2
) across Germany.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, half a million Europeans die every year as a result of poor air quality. In Germany alone, the number of annual deaths is believed to be in the region of 65,000.
Whilst up-to-date information concerning present and future air quality has been largely unavailable in the past, Air-InfoLine’s creators believe that the tool will enable German citizens to make informed decisions in relation to where they live, work and holiday.
Forecasts are already available through the project’s website and Facebook page, and there are plans to develop a supplementary smartphone app.
To learn how German citizens might benefit from a chemical weather forecast, I spoke to Dr Hermann Jakobs, a participating scientist from the Rhenish Institute for Environmental Research (RIU) at the University of Cologne. I began by asking whether Air-InfoLine shares any commonalities with conventional weather forecasts.
"Air quality is, to a large extent, seasonal" explained Dr Jakobs. "In fact, it can change significantly from one day to the next. This is largely due to varying weather conditions. Ozone levels, for instance, tend to rise in summer because of high temperatures and increased solar radiation. If a cold front arrives, these levels will drop dramatically. The same is true of particulate matter, but this problem is more pronounced during winter months. When the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) is low, fewer air exchanges take place. This means that there is a lower chance of wind, and wind plays an important role in dispersing ground-level particulate matter."
But why do German citizens need a chemical weather forecast? Is air quality in Germany poorer than it is in other European countries?
"That very much depends on the region you are in," Dr Jakobs replied. "For example, air quality is especially poor in the Ruhr region when it comes to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. This is predominantly due to industrial activities and high volumes of traffic. There are also high levels of air pollution around cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt. Air-InfoLine can provide up-to-date information about air quality in specific areas."
The RIU team generates daily forecasts using the latest meteorological and chemical data. By combining the conventional with the chemical, Dr Jakobs and his colleagues are able to offer forecasts that account not only for transportation, but also for chemical transformation and deposition.
I went on to ask how users will be able to take advantage of such information?
"Our website allows you input your hometown or postal code and find out how the local air quality is likely to fluctuate over the next day or two," explained Dr Jakobs. "We have implemented a colour-coded rating system that ranges from ‘very good’ to ‘very poor’. Accurate information of this type will no doubt be valuable to individuals who are particularly sensitive to air pollutants; people with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, for example."
Finally, I asked Dr Jakobs whether he and his colleagues have plans to expand Air-InfoLine in the future.
"We would like to extend this service to include other European countries," he concluded. "We also intend to create an application that can be used in conjunction with smart devices. For instance, we could exploit GPS technology to provide information about the air quality at a user's specific location. There are several capabilities that we would like to enhance in the near future."
If you’re interested in learning more about chemical weather forecasting and the quality of air in Germany, check out the Air-InfoLine website…