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Issue 474, 3 December 2001

Leave the car at home

Individuals using their cars not only influence local air quality but affect climate change as well, according to new findings by chemistry and environment lecturer Dr Alastair Lewis. Dr Lewis has found that highly complex vehicle emissions from private transport are often carried many thousands of kilometres away from source to the background atmosphere, and once there, take part in chemical reactions that ultimately affect climate change.

Dr Lewis has been awarded the Desty Memorial Prize for his development of a new kind of gas chromatograph for measuring the chemical composition of the atmosphere, able to operate in remote locations such as the Southern Ocean, the Arctic or even from aircraft in flight in the upper atmosphere.

Dr Lewis said: "Our measurements showed that there are some major groups of organic compounds that weren't being spotted in the atmosphere by the standard technology and many of these were from vehicle emissions. We've even found traces of vehicle emissions in the Arctic lower atmosphere, transported there by weather systems from both the USA and Western Europe."

Dr Lewis and his team are beginning a joint project with the British Antarctic Survey, to track the movement of pollutants through the atmosphere.

By combining chemical measurements on the ground with satellite images of wind movements, the researchers can track chemicals unique to vehicle emissions, such as benzene. Measurements will be taken in Antarctica, and instruments will be left to run automatically during the winter, controlled remotely from Leeds using satellite communication.

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