07 May, 2020  |  Reading time: 8 minutes


Book your place for Air Quality & CV-19: 20 May 2–4pm

A new air quality research community co-founded by the Space4Climate group – Air Quality Network UK (AQNUK) – is supporting a Covid-19 and air quality research agenda, bringing together indoor and outdoor air quality, meteorology, virology, health and built environment research professionals for the first time.

In collaboration with STFC Air Quality Network and the UK Indoor Environments Group, AQNUK is hosting Air Quality & CV-19, an online meeting, on 20th May. Participants will establish where there are critical knowledge gaps and make recommendations for a rapid response to support recovery and a longer-term research agenda.

Attendees will be welcomed by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Clean Air Champions* and will hear an overview of the current UK context from Public Health England and the Covid-19 group of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. Defra’s Air Quality Expert Group will be sharing initial findings from their call for evidence which closed on 30th April.

Air quality researchers are exploring whether pollution levels and weather conditions could impact upon Covid-19 viability, transmission and people’s immune system response. As traffic and industry-generated air pollution resumes in urban areas during the recovery period, plans to reduce exposure to Covid-19 in buildings, homes and public transport will need to factor in outdoor air pollution levels.

Participants from across relevant disciplines, including air quality Earth observation specialists, will determine the current state of knowledge on possible interactions between air quality and Covid-19 and ambient environmental conditions indoors and out.

Members of Space4Climate – leading experts from the climate data from space community – will be taking part in this unique event. Advancements in air quality monitoring and detection, particularly access to robust open datasets, are helping to address data access inequalities and gaps in non-automated data collection and lab work due to lockdown measures.

The UK Earth observation community are already supporting discussions and research coordination, including analysis of data from the recently launched Sentinel-5P TROPOMI, the most powerful air quality sensor in orbit. National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) researchers have been using nitrogen dioxide data, a powerful tracer for air pollution, to monitor changes over many regions of the world since the Coronavirus outbreak. It is also possible to use satellite data to monitor other harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, ozone and aerosols.

Space4Climate member 4EI is working with researchers at King’s College London to create a Global Air Quality Index at 20 meter resolution which will enable key decision-makers –  businesses, families and individuals – to see air quality levels in their cities. Even when lockdown restrictions are lifted, many vulnerable populations may still be advised to self-isolate and remain in lockdown when we move towards summer and heat events, particularly during episodes of poor air quality. The team at 4 EI has also been developing a heat product to help health professionals, devolved authorities, local governments and building operators improve targeting of mitigation planning against the impact on workplaces and vulnerable populations of heat events.

Donna Lyndsay, Commercial Director of 4EI stated:


“We may have a group of the most vulnerable people locked down in areas that will experience the worst impacts of hot weather. These can be severe, particularly for the elderly, so as part of our response to Covid-19, and with support from the Ordnance Survey, we are providing a satellite derived heat hazard postcode dataset for free to help responders reduce the potential impact on the NHS.”

Our space community has the technical capability to help decision makers mitigate against large scale impacts from climate change, physical hazards and human risks, and this is one step to ensuring all the technical complexity from space is distilled to simple key indicators to enable practical use on the ground”


Briony Turner, Climate Services Development Manager and coordinator of the Space4Climate group says:


“It will be interesting to see if, by bringing together outdoor and indoor air quality research communities, with industry specialists, we find critical action is required in areas that might otherwise slip between discipline gaps.

From the interest shown pre-Covid by the public health community in satellite heat data, we might find that we are asked to look at the role of air quality in pandemic management in a heat wave.

Space4Climate group members have an important role to play in helping us all better understand links between air quality parameters, environmental conditions such as wind and temperature and Covid-19. Space-enabled air quality and climate datasets and services can help detect changes, quantify impacts and save lives.”


Fleur Hughes, SAQN Network Manager says,

“This event will provide a valuable opportunity for researchers from all disciplines to come together to identify questions about Covid-19 and air quality.”

“By working together, we can share knowledge and find ways to make best use of our resources to address these questions.”


Register to attend the event here:   

This event is open to any researchers in industry, policy, third sector or academia, particularly those based in the UK or affiliated with a UK research network. The event conveners welcome an international audience, especially those able to contribute expertise to address Covid-related air quality challenges of national (UK) importance.


Covid-19 & air quality

In their response to the Defra request for evidence on changes in air pollution during the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, NCEO scientists reported that satellite nitrogen dioxide data shows substantially lower concentrations in 2020 compared to 2019, especially over major urban centres. Satellite observations reveal decreasing nitrogen dioxide values during the 2020 lockdown period in April 2020, most noticeably over London.

NCEO scientists have combined near-real time visualisation of satellite datasets, together with wind data, to provide a powerful tool to support the analysis of satellite nitrogen dioxide observations. This tool helps reveal the impact of trans-national transport due to weather conditions, particularly wind, on UK nitrogen dioxide concentrations.

Dr Marcella Ucci, chair of the event and Associate Professor in Environmental and Healthy Buildings at UCL reminds us that,


“Outdoor air pollution can impact on indoor air environments. During lockdown, many places are experiencing different patterns of pollutants and population exposures. This knowledge is crucial to inform more accurate assessment of, and measures to manage, the potential health impacts of air pollution in the coming months.”

“Pollutant levels and weather conditions could impact upon virus viability, transmission and people’s immune system response.”


*UKRI Clean Air Champions

The UKRI Clean Air Champions will open the event.  They believe Covid-19 is a

“ grave burden to society across the globe, but from the experience of various degrees of lock-down, a picture is beginning to emerge of what cleaner air is like and how society can use this as an opportunity of moving towards zero carbon without returning to the old ways.”

The UKRI Clean Air Champions are:

  • Dr Jenny Baverstock, UKRI Clean Air Champion and Senior Collaboration Fellow at the University of Southampton
  • Professor Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton
  • Professor Martin Williams, Head of Science Policy and Epidemiology team at King’s College London and former Head of the Air Quality programme at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Note to Editors:

Air Quality Network UK (AQNUK) is an activity of the Space4climate group. Chaired by the UK Space Agency, Space4Climate spans government, industry and academia, uniting UK space-enabled climate expertise and services. The group is coordinated and hosted by the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Reading. The AQNUK directory helps connect researchers from academia, policy, industry and the third sector in the UK and abroad with expertise on outdoor and indoor air quality challenges in the UK and impacts on, and from, people, buildings, objects, infrastructure, flora and fauna.

STFC Air Quality Network (SAQN) brings together researchers, industry and policy to address air quality challenges. SAQN is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as part of their 21st Century Challenge Networks programme

The UK Indoor Environments Group (UKIEG) co-ordinates and provides a focus for UK activity concerned with improving indoor environments for people. The UKIEG Committee coordinates members and activities to help promote the development, synthesis, dissemination and application of evidence relating to policy and practice for health and wellbeing associated to UK’s indoor environments.