Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Air quality monitoring system for Commonwealth Games by July-end

By July-end the air quality monitoring system developed for the Commonwealth Games will start providing real time pollution data at 11 key locations in the city - and will continue to do so till long after the Oct 3-14 mega event is over.

Scientists from the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) are in the process of installing air quality monitoring stations at the 11 locations near the Games village and venues.

The air quality stations will provide information on level of pollution within a four-kilometre radius on an hourly basis and forecast about air quality 24 hours in advance through wireless colour digital display panels which will be installed in various parts of the capital.

The monitoring stations are part of the System of Air Pollution Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) developed by the IITM at a cost of Rs.100 million (USD 2 million).

"The system will tell us about the quality of air at any given moment and also what it will be 24 hours later, thus alerting people and helping them avoid immediate exposure to unhealthy air," Gufran Beig, SAFAR scientist and project director, told IANS.

The IITM has already started receiving data from air quality monitoring stations installed at the Palam meteorological office near the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the IITM office in West Delhi and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) in Noida on the national capital's outskirts.

At eight other places - Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex, Thyagaraj Sports Complex, Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, Dr. S.P. Mukherjee Swimming Stadium, Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Siri Fort Sports Complex and Yamuna Sports Complex - it will be operational by the end of July.

A team of IITM experts has been stationed in the capital since mid-June to complete the installation work after their receiving clearance from the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.

"The air monitoring system will be housed in a walkway shelter made of glass-reinforced material to make it water- and fire- proof," said Beig.

The monitoring system comprises instruments like ozone and carbon monoxide analysers, particulate matter analysers and real time analysers for recording other pollutants.

"The institute has already begun the trail run of SAFAR. We are now validating the data of Oct 2008 and 2009 by putting in parameters like temperature, pressure and humidity and matching the forecast made by the system with the real weather during that time. As of now, the accuracy level is 90 to 95 percent," Beig said.

According to scientists, weather forecast during the Games will be more accurate as they have prepared a vehicle emission inventory for the Games.

Explaining how the generated data will come handy for air quality forecasting, Beig said: "If on a particular day it is found that the pollution level is high, we will recommend to the Delhi government to shut some industries or divert traffic near the venues."

The monitoring system is important as some athletes have hinted at skipping the Games as they fear that Delhi's air is unsafe to breathe. But the Games Organising Committee says it is committed to ensuring clean air as the event has been dubbed the first-ever Green Games.

The organisers are confident that the existing traffic density can be reduced drastically by providing quality public transport by way of more Metro trains and green buses.

The Indian capital is among the most polluted cities in the world and the ever-growing number of cars, two-wheelers and three-wheelers occupy a staggering 75 percent of road space, although only 20 percent of the commuting public use them.

Delhi has over five million vehicles and another four million come to the metropolis from towns in adjoining states in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The Games organisers are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping the scientific methods to improve the quality of air in the capital will succeed.

China had a tough time battling air pollution during the Olympic Games last year and there are doubts whether Delhi can be as effective as Beijing in enforcing traffic curbs, raising emission standards and stopping Games' construction work well in time to improve air quality.

But India is hard at work to ensure a pollution-free event.

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