Groundbreaking research is in the air for Qatar

Opinion: Mohammed Ayoub

From an atmospheric science perspective, the Middle East has not been studied in much detail. This is true of our current understanding of the chemistry of the atmosphere, as well as how we model or simulate the meteorology and air quality of this region.

For example, using globally accepted research models to simulate the atmosphere allows us to understand how emissions and weather patterns impact on our health and day-to-day lives. However, these models have built within them some assumptions that are based on a Northern Hemisphere, mid-latitude environment. These assumptions may or may not be representative of the arid desert environment of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

We at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) are working with counterparts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to better simulate dust dynamics and improve model performance in the Middle East. This will allow us to better predict air quality on a local scale and more accurately simulate our regional climate and climate-change impacts.

In addition to modeling the atmosphere, we are also looking at direct measurement of atmospheric pollutants at both ground and upper levels of the atmosphere. Over the next few months, we will be commissioning five new ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AQMS) around Doha. These complex stations will monitor air quality in real time and report the data to a central database that can be used to make air-quality assessments and forecasts available to the general public.

We are also partnering with the Ministry of Environment, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, College of the North Atlantic Qatar, and Qatar University to integrate existing and planned AQMS. We are also considering the need to expand the network to include other areas around the country.

Furthermore, we are studying the chemistry of the atmosphere to better understand the reaction mechanisms that lead to the formation of secondary pollutants like ozone. Ozone is a by-product of the photochemical reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). The higher ambient temperatures, higher incoming solar radiation (due to mostly clear skies), relative humidity and the sources of VOC and NOx emissions all contribute to this process. Understanding the role of each contributor is essential.

In collaboration with the Geographic Information System group at QEERI, we are also looking at satellite remote sensing of trace atmospheric constituents. Efforts are also under way to measure concentrations of ozone, using balloon-borne ozone sondes.

This holistic approach toward understanding air quality and atmospheric dynamics is further enhanced by the presence of other environment and energy research groups within QEERI. This allows for interdisciplinary co-operation and places QEERI as an essential bridge toward realizing the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030.

It is truly a knowledgeable and mature society that is able to balance its energy and economic needs with the needs and health of its natural environment.