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New 'pollution radar' developed to provide unprecedented picture of urban smog

Each pollution radar draws on cutting edge UK technologies in many areas of design. (Credit: Christopher Whyte - Designer)

New 'pollution radar' developed to provide unprecedented picture of urban smog

Technologies have health and scientific benefits

Issued on 09 March 2009

Picture/filming opportunities: please contact Roland Leigh on +44(116) 252 2590, email:

Scientists and industrialists have invented a sophisticated new air quality measuring device that can act as a pollution radar over cities.

A team from the Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, the University of Leicester and EADS Astrium are behind the technology that can be placed on satellites to provide unprecedented detail of gases in the atmosphere.

The researchers are also developing ground-based instruments this year, which will be able to create 3D maps of atmospheric gases.

The technologies have emerged from the UK’s Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI) which is actively engaged in the development of novel Earth observation instrumentation and acts as a catalyst for the development of technologies for environmental monitoring from space. It is jointly supported via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS).

Professor Paul Monks from the University of Leicester is one of the project leaders of the Compact Air Quality Spectrometer (CompAQS), a CEOI project to develop a compact imaging spectrometer operating in the ultra violet and visible (UV/VIS) part of the spectrum, with a number of potential applications on satellite platforms. The technology developed is now being adapted, through the NERC knowledge exchange funding into the CityScan project, to enable the quality of the air to be easily and continuously monitored across physically large urban and industrial spaces.

He said: “The instrument has been developed for potential deployment as a small satellite payload and provides the performance of current, comparable instruments, which are significantly larger in size. Its compact size, achieved through the use of a novel optical design, means that the costs of manufacture, platform development and launch can be minimised

“There is now overwhelming consensus that poor air quality impacts on human health. The World Health Organization has estimated that 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution, with 1.5 million of these attributable to indoor air pollution. Population exposure to increased levels of gases and particulates requires action by public authorities at the national, regional and international levels.

“Measurements of atmospheric composition and quality are important to both the long term monitoring and control of human and naturally occurring emissions and the shorter term effects on human health. There is an increasing need for data to be collected, on a long term basis, in more detail, over larger areas and with higher levels of consistency with the CEOI playing a key role in meeting this challenge.”

During 2009 two new CompAQS instruments are being constructed and configured for use as a ground-based Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (DOAS) system by the University of Leicester, in collaboration with partners at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. These instruments will operate in the visible wavelength region to enable virtually real-time, 3D maps of atmospheric gases such as nitrogen dioxide to be constructed with five-minute time resolution. This is achieved by the simultaneous analysis of scattered solar UV/Visible radiation from multiple instruments and multi viewing geometries, giving an unprecedented level of information on the dynamics and composition of the urban environment.

The CityScan instrument will have significant advantages over currently available air quality monitors providing a continuous monitoring technique for an entire urban area. Each system is envisaged to provide coverage of areas of some 25 km2 and to undertake real-time monitoring of nitrogen dioxide and aerosol at a spatial resolution of 50m. Effectively, acting like a pollution radar.

CityScan will enable the collection of unique air quality monitoring datasets with the potential to open up new areas in emission monitoring, pollution measurement and air quality control. Such measurements need high performance spectrometer and detector systems, sharing a number of key development demands with satellite instrumentation. This technology is therefore a natural spin-out avenue for space-borne spectrometer developments, with advances made in CityScan being fed back to the UK space industry via the project partners.

The emissions and distribution of key air quality gases such as nitrogen dioxide (modelled concentrations over Leicester shown here) will be monitored using the CityScan "pollution radar" technology.

Above: The emissions and distribution of key air quality gases such as nitrogen dioxide (modelled concentrations over Leicester shown here) will be monitored using the CityScan "pollution radar" technology.


Further information about this technology and others funded by the CEOI can be found at You can also contact the Project Leads, Dr Roland Leigh: Tel: +44(116) 252 2590, email: , Prof. Paul Monks: Tel: +44(116) 252 2141, Email: or the CEOI Director, Professor Mick Johnson: Tel: +44(0)1438 774421, email:

Press Office Contact:

Ather Mirza, Press and Corporate Communications, Division of Marketing and Communications, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, tel: 0116 252 3335, email:


  1. Start-up investment for the CEOI of £1.5 million over 15 months comes from NERC and BERR (Dept for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), with substantial investment from the CEOI industrial and academic partners.
  2. Astrium Ltd, Europe's largest space company and a route for application of the new technologies in future Earth observation and space science missions, has been appointed to lead the CEOI. They are in partnership with the University of Leicester as academic research partner, who will interface with the science and user communities to establish the requirements for future EO missions; the Science and Technology Facilities Council / Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who will provide the link between these requirements and technology developments; and QinetiQ Ltd. who will manage the technology projects. All partners will have major roles in the development of EO technologies through the centre.
  3. NERC funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. NERC is tackling the 21st century's major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. It leads in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences.
  4. BERR (Dept for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) is responsible for trade, business, employment relations, consumers, science and energy. It is in a unique position to contribute to the wider challenge of globalisation – enabling business and employees to prosper in the UK.
  5. NERC and BERR are members of the British National Space Centre (BNSC) which is a partnership of nine Government Departments and research councils. BNSC co-ordinates space activities for the benefit of science, enterprise and the environment and represents the UK at the European Space Agency and at other international fora.
  6. Astrium is a world leader in the design and manufacture of satellite systems, payloads, ground infrastructure and space equipment for a wide range of civil and military applications The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is a world-class specialist in Earth observation and meteorological systems, offering platforms, optical and radar instruments and ground segment equipment. Astrium is a prime contractor to ESA for major space exploration programmes. In 2006, EADS Astrium had a turnover of €3.2 billion and 11,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are: the business units Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, and Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment, and its wholly owned subsidiary Astrium Services for the development and delivery of satellite services.
  7. The University of Leicester –the Times Higher University of the Year- is a leading UK university, delivering high-quality undergraduate, postgraduate and professional education, and research with international impacts.

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