UK universities win £1.2m funding to tackle Delhi air pollution crisis

Academics at the University of Surrey and University of Birmingham have won funding of £1.2m from NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) to conduct the first quantitative assessment of air pollution in Delhi, India’s second largest city. The project, which is being led in the UK by the University of Birmingham and in India by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, is one of five being conducted within the UK-India NERC-MOES Programme on Air Quality and Health in Megacity Delhi. This programme is a joint initiative between NERC and the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the UK and the Earth System Science Organization, Ministry of Earth Sciences (ESSO-MoES) and Department of Biotechnology in India.

Delhi was rated the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014. With 46 million people living in and around the city, annual mean levels of particulate matter (the most important air pollutant for health in Delhi) exceed WHO guidelines by a factor of 15 and are responsible for substantial chronic and acute health impacts, with resulting economic costs.

In order to develop effective strategies for improving air quality, there is an urgent need for a quantitative understanding of the sources, formation processes, regional budgets and chemical and physical nature of airborne particular matter. The ASAP-Delhi project is aimed at providing this vital data using advanced statistical and modelling methods.

Bringing together some of the world’s leading experts in air quality, the ASAP-Delhi project will involve close collaboration between Dr Prashant Kumar (Principal Investigator at the University of Surrey) and Professor William Bloss (Principal Investigator at the University of Birmingham), with Professor Mukesh Khare (Principal Investigator at the IIT Delhi) and Dr Chammendra Sharma (Principal Investigator at India’s National Physical Laboratory). The researchers will conduct a series of field observations, and use a combination of established methodologies and new ”˜state-of-the-science’ tools and analytical approaches to provide key insights to support the development of initiatives to improve air quality in Delhi.

Dr Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey said: “After spending a good few years of my life in Delhi and experiencing the city’s air pollution issues at a personal level, I am delighted to be leading this exciting project from the University of Surrey’s side. My team’s specific role in the project is to assess contributions to air pollution from some hitherto overlooked sources, look at the emission budget in and out of Delhi, and conduct source profiling through measurements, laboratory investigations and advanced statistical and modelling methods. ASAP-Delhi extends Surrey’s existing collaboration with UK and Indian partners to the teams working on the other four NERC-MOES projects. It is an excellent opportunity to make a positive difference to the severe air pollution issues that exacerbate to the highest level during winters in Delhi.”

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