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York Chemists test air quality from Moorland fires

Posted on 12 July 2018

Scientists from the Department of Chemistry are flying their ‘lab-on-an-aeroplane’ through the smoke from wildfires in the North of England to understand the air pollution impact.

Professor James Lee on board the 'lab-on-an-aeroplane'

In a recent feature on BBC News, Professor James Lee from the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory (WACL), which is part of the Department of Chemistry at the University of York, explained how his team is analysing air pollution generated by moorland fires in the North West of England. The team are using their flying laboratory which is a converted passenger plane and is run by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for atmospheric analysis.

Fires like the one on Saddleworth Moor, which has been burning for over 3 weeks, are predicted to be more common than usual across the UK and Europe this summer, raising concerns about pollution. By gaining insight into the chemical constituents of the smoke generated by these wildfires, and their concentration, the researchers gain a deeper understanding of the pollution burden. In a changing climate, where these events may become increasingly common, it is vital to gain a good understanding of the atmospheric effects of moorland wildfires.

The BBC News feature also interviewed first year PhD student Shona Wilde who was on the flight taking measurements. This was also the first science flight of MChem(Industry) student Dominika Pasternak, who is carrying out her final year research project at the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Management (FAAM).

The Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL) was established in 2013 and was the first of its kind in the UK. Supported by a large award from the Wolfson Foundation and a private donor, the Laboratories enable experimental and theoretical studies relating to the science of local and global air pollution. WACL is as a collaborative venture between the University of York and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS).

Find out more about the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories at the University of York.

Read some of Professor James Lee's research.