By Ievgen Kylymnyk, Andreas Sandberg and Victoria Yashkina, UNDP Ukraine
For breath is life, so if you breathe well you will live long on earth.
– Sanskrit Proverb
Air pollution is one of the three environmental problems Ukrainians are most concerned about, coming third after water pollution and deforestation.
Ukrainians have access to more and more networks and applications with information on the air quality index and the level of pollution – among them SaveEcoBot, EcoCity and others. Such platforms combine the data from official sources, meteorological data and largely rely on citizen-owned sensors. Having a snapshot of air quality is especially important for people with a predisposition to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and for other vulnerable groups, for whom air quality information should be as accessible as data from a thermometer outside a window. Everyone's health depends on air quality.
Daria Ozerna, a biologist and science journalist, said the level of air pollution often determines whether children and adults spend time outdoors, training, playing and walking. “Physical activity is a component of almost all aspects of health, and it depends in part on air quality," she said. “Air pollution can also adversely affect the course of coronavirus disease.”
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the ETH Zürich spin-off Meteodat recently investigated possible interactions between acutely elevated levels of fine particulate matter and the virulence of the coronavirus disease. They discovered acute concentrations of fine particles, especially those smaller than 2.5 micrometers, cause inflammation of the respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular tracts and thicken the blood. “In combination with a viral infection, these inflammatory factors can lead to a serious progression of the disease,” says Mario Rohrer, researcher at the Institute for Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Sciences of UNIGE and director of Meteodat.
Air pollution is a complex phenomenon, hazardous particles and molecules appear in the air we breathe from many sources: cars, industry, fires, natural factors – it is affected by the temperature, humidity and wind. But there are six pollutants that are being closely monitored globally due to their adverse impact on health and man-made nature.
The “usual suspects” standout on all visualizations. We can visually identify hotspots in Dnipro, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kryvyi Rih, Kyiv, Mariupol, and Zaporizhzhya. These cities are known for their heavy industry and poor air quality and thus appear in the negative air quality rankings each year. We have also tried to track down the biggest polluters (as per official state statistics) and have found that their geolocation largely corresponds with NO2 hotspots. In some cases the visualization shows that such emitters have a more significant impact than other sources of pollution in each particular region.
Seasons of pollution
During the cold season, people with heart or lung disease have a higher risk of complications. In winter on the territory of Ukraine, there is almost a tenfold increase in the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide compared to the summer period. This can be explained by reduced precipitation and almost no vegetation.
Carbon monoxide emissions are highest in April, and this can probably be explained by the active burning of dry vegetation in rural areas. A small increase in carbon monoxide concentrations is also observed each year in September.
Satellite data: a short cut on the path to air quality monitoring systems?
Satellite data is will not substitute ground level measurements, there are few limitations satellites have (at least the fact that they are hundreds of kilometres away) that do not guarantee forensic precision, but they are globally used as a supporting or proxy data. For instance, in the EU, satellite data serve as an additional source of information on air quality, helping to track pollution sources and respond accordingly. Satellites can also provide access to air quality information where no on-ground monitoring posts are available.
The use-case for satellite data above provides a valuable insight on what kind of evidence could be generated. But how can this be applied to support national policymaking and improved air quality? We would need a coalition of professionals to properly address that question, but here we have a few ideas we would like to test:
1. How might we use this data to verify citizen generated air quality data?
Citizen led air pollution monitoring projects are often criticized for not having consistent, stable, equally dense and controlled measurement network, hence are called “unreliable”. While the argument has valid grounds, it is not wise to discard the data, instead we should see opportunity to support them. Maybe the satellite data is the proxy that could build more trust to the evidence they create?
2. How might we support national SDG monitoring framework with satellite data?
Ukraine has joined 193 other countries to adopt Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as its guiding framework to end all forms of poverty, build a life of dignity for all and leaving no one behind. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree in September 2019 to ensure compliance with 17 goals of sustainable development of Ukraine for the period until 2030.
SDG11 includes an indicator on air pollution (11.5) that could be measured using satellite data. It might become an additional source of evidence for the assessment or help to increase confidence in local measurements.