NIWA embarks on biggest-ever air quality campaign

Can living close to motorways damage your health? Or is smoke from wood-burning fires the major urban pollutant in NZ? A cycling scientist may help provide the answer.

NIWA scientists are leading the biggest air-quality measurement campaign ever conducted in New Zealand.

Between April and August 2010, scientists ran a comprehensive observational programme based in Otahuhu (South Auckland). Their aim: to gather data on emissions from Auckland's southern motorway, assess what proportion of potentially health-damaging emissions come from the motorway, and determine how far the emissions travel.

The research also aims to assess what proportion of emissions which end up in people's homes come from the motorway, and what proportion come from wood smoke.

The cycling scientist - gathering data by bike

A novel part of the campaign involved scientists collecting data on the move. Instruments were mounted on a car and on a bike. University of Canterbury PhD student Woody Pattinson's role included a rigorous daily bike-ride through the study area, with a suite of instruments mounted in his front basket.

Three of NIWA's air-quality monitoring trailers were also strategically positioned within the one-square-kilometre study area, and sampling tubes were placed on lamp posts. The main contaminants recorded were carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates (the small flecks of soot, fumes, and dust that come from traffic and wood smoke).

Woody also rented a house in the study area, and set up a range of instruments inside it. 

Over the five months, our instruments gathered data from throughout the study region minute-by-minute, and in some cases, metre-by-metre as the car, the bike, and their associated instruments travelled around the Otahuhu streets.

"The results will not only tell us about existing air-pollution levels," says NIWA's Dr Ian Longley, "They will also help us plan for future road-use and wood-burning scenarios." The experiment is part of a larger study looking at the impact of neighbourhood design on exposure to air-borne pollutants.

The various research projects supporting this campaign run until 2012. Funding is from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and the NZ Transport Agency.

NIWA's collaborators are the universities of Canterbury and Auckland, and Landcare Research.

Read more the research methods used in this project

Contact: Ian Longley





Woody Pattinson measures roadside emissions by bike, Otahuhu. (Photo: Dave Allen)
Research subject: Air Quality