A Pint of Science Presents: Our Fragile Atmosphere

Way back in the dim and distant days of yore (well, the 18th May but it seems like a long time ago now we’re in the future space-age July) we ran another of our Green Reactions series of events in conjunction with Pint of Science. However, everybody involved then vanished to every corner of the earth to do fieldwork so despite the event having actually been carried out so long ago we’re only getting around to writing a blog post about it now.

pulling pints (2)

Science on tap at the Duke of York!

The event, titled “Our Fragile Atmosphere”, took place at the excellent Duke of York pub and was kicked off by Pete Edwards from the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry lab who was talking about his research in Utah about the role of the “fracking” industry in causing localised spikes in ozone pollution. The great thing about this talk is that the team Pete was part of were able not only to figure out what exactly was causing the mysterious ozone pollution during winter, when ozone levels (near the ground, anyway) are usually low, but also were able to influence US government policy to help sort the problem out. Inevitably, talking about fracking caused a fair bit of discussion – with a lot of it directed towards the concerns often mentioned in the media about the method: Is there a real risk of water contamination? Could it create earth-tremors? Is it the right thing to do in the UK? Pete emphasised that regulation and proper construction of the wells themselves can make a huge difference, noting that many of these issues that have cropped up in the US tend to happen in states where the drilling industry is less heavily regulated.

pete (2)

Figure 1: Pete, pint of “Science” in hand, reveals the jet-set lifestyle of the atmospheric chemist.

Xiu Gao spoke next about her work on pollution monitoring in cities, particularly focusing on York, Berlin and Seoul, and how gathering the opinions of policymakers, NGOs and industrial concerns, as well as the population in general, can make pollution monitoring smarter and deliver the right information where it is needed. Xiu also discussed the role of technologies including swarm robots and smartphone apps to crowdsource pollution monitoring.  Xiu and her team’s research paints a picture of urban environmental monitoring as a complex system reaching from the monitoring methods used, to data management, regulation and international cooperation. The audience really engaged with the topic of urban air-quality monitoring and asked many questions. This proved to be a surprisingly “hot topic” in York, especially since York is a comparatively small city, with residents being really concerned about air quality and local policies to manage it.


Figure 2: Xiu kicks off a lively discussion about pollution monitoring in cities.

Karla Beltran was the last speaker and presented a beautifully illustrated overview of the Andean moorland ecosystems of her native Ecuador and their role in the wider environment. She spoke in detail about the biodiversity of the moors but also about their role in providing “ecosystem services” such as helping to regulate water availability (preventing both flooding and drought), storing carbon and improving food security in the region. Karla also discussed her research work in understanding the effects of deforestation, changing land use and climate change on these ecosystems and how these changes might have an effect in the future by disrupting the vital functions the moorlands supply. The subject of moorlands resonated well with the audience, as this is a type of environment we are very familiar with in the UK and in this part of Yorkshire especially, albeit with fewer llamas. Because of this, the audience were very knowledgeable about threats facing moorlands and this lead to a very stimulating discussion about the issue and how it is linked with climate change.


Figure 3: Karla introduces everyone to the wonderful Ecuadorian moorland ecosystem.

Thanks to everyone for being there and talking to our researchers. Hope you enjoyed listening to our stories as much as we enjoyed telling them!

– contributed by Ian Ingram.


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