KCL studies airspace closure effect

Scientists in the Environmental Research Group (ERG) at King’s College London have undertaken research into the effects of the closure of UK airspace on air quality surrounding major airports after the Icelandic volcano eruption.

The ERG analysed the concentrations of NOX (the generic term for oxides of nitrogen combined) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) surrounding Gatwick and Heathrow airports during the first three days of closure – from 15 to 17 April, 2010.

This period was chosen due to the stable weather conditions with light north-easterly winds, allowing a cross-sectional analysis upwind and downwind of the airports.

This period of unprecedented closure during good weather conditions allowed the scientists to demonstrate that the airports have a clear measurable effect on nitrogen concentrations and that this effect disappeared entirely during the period of closure.

Nitrogen pollutants can increase breathing difficulties in people with existing sensibilities or cardiac conditions, or in older people. Under the impact of sunlight, they can transform into the even more damaging pollutant ozone. NOx and NO2 are particularly associated with jet aircraft, as they are produced by the high-temperature mix of aviation with fuel.

The analysis was undertaken by Dr Ben Barratt and Dr Gary Fuller of the Environmental Research Group, School of Biomedical and Health Sciences.

’We have always been fairly confident that there was this ’airport effect’, but we have never been able to show it. The closure gave us the opportunity to look at it and there is a very strong indication that it is the case,’ said Dr Barratt.

A full version of the report is available for download from the ERG’s London Air Quality Network website.