Project highlights

  • Atmospheric chemical modelling of Net Zero impacts on air quality in UK Cities
  • Assessment of present-day and future air quality levels and health impacts
  • Quantify climate and air-quality synergies to optimise policy choices

Overview

Poor air quality is responsible for 36,000 premature deaths each year in the UK.  NO2 levels in major UK cities exceed current government air quality limits, and are significantly more polluted than newly updated World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.  However, Net Zero policies – notably relating to electric vehicle use, changes to power generation and home heating – will have significant air quality co-benefits.  These will affect NO2 and PM levels differently, and benefit local communities differently – depending on the spatial scale of emissions changes and the atmospheric processing.

The aim of this project is to quantify the Net Zero Air Quality – Climate Change co-benefits, and to assess the potential for these to provide a pathway for attainment of the World Health Organisation air quality guidelines, in the context of interventions such as Clean Air Zones.  The focus will be upon NO2, O3, PM2.5, and on nanoparticles in urban areas – an emerging health priority.  A secondary aim is to assess which communities will benefit from cleaner air – how the air quality benefits may correlate with measures of affluence, or of deprivation.  The results from the project will inform policy development to reduce environmental health inequality.

This project is offered as a CASE studentship with Birmingham City Council, who will provide additional support, supervision, data access and a financial supplement to the studentship award.  The project will combine development of future air quality emissions predictions (drawn from Net Zero plans), air quality modelling using an existing detailed atmospheric chemistry model of the city, and integrating the resulting air quality predictions with other datasets (e.g. indices of multiple deprivation).  While the project will focus on the use of Birmingham as an example, the methodology should be applicable widely.

Host

University of Birmingham

Theme

  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability

Supervisors

Project investigator

Co-investigators

  • Dr Suzanne Bartington, University of Birmingham
  • Mark Wolstencroft, Birmingham City Council – CASE partner

How to apply

Methodology

The project will apply an existing atmospheric model, used to simulate gas and aerosol concentrations across the West Midlands (see Zhong et al., reference below), with new emissions projections reflecting Net Zero policies and regional strategies, and nanoparticle mechanism.  Key project stages will include (i) developing adjusted future emissions, adjusting existing emission factors for new policies.  This will involve some degree of judgement, informed by external expert discussions, to develop possible scenarios. (ii) incorporation of the new emissions projections within the existing model, and using this to simulate future air quality levels (potentially, under a range of different scenarios).  (iii) assessing the spatial impacts upon different communities, and the degree of attainment of different WHO interim air quality target levels, as a function of the emission scenario.  The project will be written up in the academic literature (i.e., as papers), and incorporated into policy briefs to inform future air quality strategy.

Training and skills

Training will comprise (i) project-specific technical skills – use of the atmospheric model tool and emissions inventory – through existing WM-Air staff (see below) and external training courses (e.g. via CERC) (ii) as necessary to candidate background, atmospheric science training through attendance (no assessment) at modules form the MSc in Air Pollution Management & Control (iii) external atmospheric science training, through the NCAS Atmospheric Science Summer School (or equivalent) (iv) regional policy exposure – through WM-Air activities and links and (v) personal development and PhD study skills training, through the CENTA programme.

Partners and collaboration

This project is offered as a CASE studentship, with Birmingham City Council, through collaboration with BCC staff working on a range of air pollution initiatives, notably including the Birmingham Clean Air Zone.  BCC will support development of future emission scenarios, provision of data for model validation, assessment of the impact of future predicted air quality levels upon communities affected, and in developing project results to influence policy.

Within the University, the candidate will work with other PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from Prof Bloss’ research group, and with the WM-Air team, as part of a wide group of researchers looking at different aspects of air quality and health.

Further details

Please contact Prof William Bloss, [email protected], for more details or informal discussion. To apply, please visit https://sits.bham.ac.uk/lpages/LES068.htm

Possible timeline

Year 1

Training on use of atmospheric models; scenario definition and development of emission inventories.  NCAS Atmospheric Science Summer School.  Conference: International Air Quality Mtg

Year 2

Modelling of future scenarios and assessment of air quality progress towards WHO interim target and guideline levels; calculation of population exposure and health effects. Conference: AGU, San Francisco / EGU, Vienna.

Year 3

Development of policy-relevant materials and extension of methodology to other locations.  Write up – papers and thesis.

Further reading

Zhong et al., Using task farming to optimize a street-scale resolution air quality model of the West Midlands, Atmosphere, 12, 983, 2021.  Open access link: https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4433/12/8/983

 Policy Note: Implications of Net Zero policies for air quality

WM-Air project: https://wm-air.org.uk/

COVID-19

This is essentially a computer-based project which can be delivered flexibly (ie., in the office or working from home).  Key datasets and contacts necessary for the project are in place, and a Zoom/Teams based working relationship exists.  Accordingly, minimal Covid risk is anticipated.