PEGASOS – Bringing a breath of fresh air to climate research
In Europe, emissions of many air pollutants have decreased substantially over the past decades, resulting in improved air quality across the continent. However, concentrations are still too high, and air quality problems persist. At the same time, the concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are rising leading to climate changes.
The Pan-European gas-aerosols-climate interaction study (Pegasos) is pursuing strategies to improve air quality while limiting climate change through research, awareness-raising and the creation of new EU-wide emission policies.
Air pollution has been shown to be very influential in a range of environmental problems, from local effects and human health concerns to regional problems such as acid deposition and eutrophication – the ecosystem response to the addition of artificial or natural substances. Air pollution is also known to contribute to continental and global problems such as climate change and ozone loss in the stratosphere and climatic change.
The Pegasos project –which brings together many of the leading European research groups in environmental science – focuses on enhancing understanding of the interactions of climate and atmospheric chemistry in the past, present and future.
By investigating key atmospheric processes and providing the scientific basis for the design of EU-wide climate protection measures, as well as improving the quality of air in Europe, Pegasos is using EU funding through the FP7 programme to provide improved understanding in areas of major uncertainty in the relationship between air quality and changing climate.
"In the last few years it has become obvious that the link between climate and air quality can no longer be ignored, and that this interaction should be explicitly considered when designing long-term environmental strategies," says the project coordinator Spyros Pandis of the University of Patras and Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH), Greece.
"A number of processes coupling climate change and air quality have been identified and are currently major topics of research by Pegasos," notes Prof. Pandis. "These processes are couplings between environmental reservoirs or between gases, particles and water phases in the atmosphere."
According to Prof. Pandis, one of the most significant achievements during the first phase of Pegasos was the development of a new technological approach to monitoring the state of the atmosphere. "The approach is based on the use of a Zeppelin airship equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, together with mobile ground laboratories, fixed ground stations and satellite observations," he explains. To provide a scientifically sound basis for air-quality and climate protection measures, the Pegasos Zeppelin observed radicals and aerosols in the atmospheric layers close to the ground.
Two campaigns were completed during 2012. The first covered Germany and the Netherlands, while the second focused on the Po Valley in Northern Italy. The two campaigns included approximately 50 Zeppelin flights, during the day and at night. "These resulted in probably the best air-quality dataset in the world with comprehensive air-quality measurements," acknowledges Prof. Pandis.
The search for better policy options
Pegasos is also assessing the effectiveness of existing climate policies and working towards the better design of future policy options. The outcomes will be disseminated directly through public outreach, and by providing relevant results to policy-makers, and indirectly by delivering scientific studies to support relevant international organisations and, in turn, inform international and European policy-making.
"Pegasos has been providing input to the ongoing European Union Air Quality Review Process and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and is already having an impact in areas such as air quality, climate change and ozone levels," says Prof. Pandis. "We feel confident that by the end of Pegasos, in 2015, its impacts on the EU policy directions will be easily visible."
Through the long-standing involvement of most of its partners in the IPCC process and other international assessments, Pegasos ensures that results will have impact beyond Europe, which is important not only in the climate policy arena but in the lives of European citizens.
"Pollutants are not aware of political boundaries or jurisdictions; they travel quite efficiently from country to country," stresses Prof. Pandis. "The solution is relatively straightforward: we should look at the problem at the European level with each country or city taking care of their contribution to the common problems."
According to Prof. Pandis, Pegasos is a great opportunity for true pan-European collaboration: "To work together towards a common objective: cleaner air for all of us."
Participants: Greece (Coordinator), France, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, Finland, Estonia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway