Observing a changing atmosphere through educational air pollution gardens

Air pollution levels in the UK, and more widely across Europe, remain high enough to have significant impacts on the natural environment. In particular, atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition exceeds thresholds to prevent loss of sensitive and iconic plant species, while ozone (O3) levels exceed critical thresholds to prevent reduced growth and seed production in sensitive plant species. Urban concentrations of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in UK cities also still pose a threat to human health, with NO2 concentrations exceeding the annual-­‐mean safe threshold in all  but 3 of 43 monitored zones in 2013. Observations also show that northern hemispheric background concentrations of O3 continue to rise.

The visible effects of air pollution (e.g. through changes in the lichen flora or injury on the leaves of sensitive plant species) provide both a means of improving understanding of pollution levels through biomonitoring and a means of engaging the public and increasing their awareness of air pollution.

A recent initiative in the United States, which can potentially address these two objectives, has been the establishment of ‘O3 gardens’, comprising plants that exhibit characteristic visible symptoms in response to O3. Our aim is to introduce this novel method of educating the public on air pollution, and increasing knowledge of its impacts, to the UK, adapting it to demonstrate the impacts of both NO2 and O3 on sensitive plants.

In addition, this project aims at expanding our knowledge on sensitive bioindicators in different plant groups and origins by studying symptoms of air pollution damage across a wide range of plants.

Press Coverage of the Project

A short film about this project

White Rose Air Pollution Project

Lead academics on this projectPollutant Gardens

Dr.Maria Val Martin (Sheffield)

Dr.Lisa Emberson (York)

Dr. Steve Arnold (Leeds)

Other members of staff associated with this project

Prof. Mike Ashmore (York)

Dr. Patrick Büker (York)

Dr. Alison Dyke (York)

Dr. Bobby Nisha (Sheffield)

Dr. Rachel Pateman (York)

Dr. Cat Scott  (Leeds)

Dr. Sarah West (York)

 

White Rose air quality garden project