Heatwave threatens elderly

Space scientists have warned of a dramatic increase in deadly air pollution in Europe’s heatwave. Satellite sensors are recording dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide building up in major UK cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The gas causes breathing problems and is a threat to the elderly or people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. The startling boost in pollution was measured by scientists at the University of Leicester as temperatures soared to record highs over the UK last week.

They said yesterday the pollution – shown in the two images here – was mainly caused by road traffic and power stations and was building up in cities because of the lack of wind and rain.

The effects of the heatwave were studied using two eyes in the sky – Europe’s Envisat and Nasa’s Aura. The Envisat satellite includes a UK-built sensor, the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer, which monitors land and sea surface temperatures. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument on Aura showed the dramatic increases in levels of nitrogen dioxide.

Dr Gary Corlett, of Leicester University, stressed the dangers of the rising pollution levels in the baking heat yesterday. He said: “We get still days in the winter when air pollution builds up but it is far more dangerous when combined with the high temperatures that we have been getting recently. Old and vulnerable people already suffering in the heat are at greater risk when breathing in the greater amounts of nitrogen dioxide pollution too.”

Dr John Remedios, Head of Earth Observation Science at Leicester said: “It is particularly striking to see the extent of temperature and pollution increases in the large cities which have such a detrimental effect on the quality of life in those locations”.

The scientists say current climate change predictions for the UK suggest that the frequency of these extreme periods of high temperature and high pollution will increase. They warn that local and national government should keep a close watch on air pollution levels to protect vulnerable citizens.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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