System to give Delhi precise data on air pollution sources

This year, a new system is likely to begin pinpointing the precise sources of air pollution in Delhi, which can potentially help authorities turn their attention to specific triggers, according to the people behind the project.

The Decision Support System (DSS), a pollution tracking model developed by the scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, aims to identify the contribution of known sources, such as vehicle tailpipe emissions, road dust, and farm fires , in real time.

The system will plug into existing networks of air quality monitors, and leverage tagging of pollution sources – including details of where they are – to determine previously unknown details about Delhi’s air.

Sachin Ghude, in-charge of IITM’s air quality early warning system and the head of the DSS project, and Gaurav Govardhan, who has developed DSS, said that this will be the first real time pollution source monitoring system to be used for Delhi.

“Currently, we are conducting trials to further advance the accuracy of this source monitoring model. Our aim is that it starts producing realtime data by October this year, when the stubble burning season starts,” Ghude said.

Explaining how the model will work, Ghude said each pollution source in Delhi has been tagged with details of how much pollutants they contribute in Delhi’s air in real time.

“We have tagged each pollution source in Delhi. With this, at any given time we will be able to know which pollution sources are acting up and how much are they contributing. We will also be assessing where these sources are located,” Ghude said. This, for instance, will help determine if the air is bad due to traffic or because of smoke from farm fires at a particular time, he said.

Every year, from October to November, fumes from crop residue set alight by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh engulf the national capital and its surrounding areas, making the air hazardous to breathe. This has required the Capital to issue restrictions on construction work and halve the number of private cars on the roads via the odd-even system.

The problem becomes acute during and in the run-up to winter, when winds die down and pollutants settle closer to the city’s surface, invariably manifesting as a brown haze.

Despite mitigation measures that have intensified over the past five years, the region has made little improvement in being able to control the problem. In March this year, a report by Swiss technology company IQAir ranked as the world’s most Delhi capital in the year 2020.

Last year, Delhi recorded 92 “severe” and “very poor” air quality days during winter, compared to 80 in 2019.

Last year, the central government formed the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in Delhi and adjoining areas to tackle the problem and create a unified mechanism. But the measure made little difference and the body was disbanded earlier this year.

The most significant movements in understanding Delhi’s pollution problem came in 2016, when a source apportionment study was conducted by IIT-Kanpur and in 2018, in a study by The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) to identify major pollution contributors.

But these were still not dynamic. IITM scientists said eight pollution sources identified by TERI in a report in 2018 have been tagged and contributions of these will be monitored.

The model will also identify pollution sources from 19 districts across NCR.

“This model was developed on the request of CAQM but since that has been seized to exist, the developments highlighted through our system will be monitored by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Realtime data will be available for policy makers as well as the public. They can keep a tab on it through our existing air quality early warning system,” Ghude said.

A senior CPCB official said the body is trying to improve the mechanism of identifying the pollution sources in Delhi-NCR so that a holistic winter action plan can be executed based on these inputs. “It is a little early to comment on this from our end, but we are getting the best minds on-board so that the action against pollution sources can be quick and effective during winter season. We are experimenting with different technologies to achieve this,” the official said.


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