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Coronavirus and Air Quality in the Rhineland

Forschungszentrum Jülich launches measurement campaign with Zeppelin NT

Jülich, 28 April 2020 – What impact is the shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic having on air quality in the Rhineland region? Jülich’s Institute of Energy and Climate Research – Troposphere is seeking to answer this question with a measurement campaign, which is being launched at the beginning of May from the Bonn-Hangelar airfield. A Zeppelin NT airship will be used to measure trace gases and particulate matter over multiple flights on different routes. The airship’s destinations will include Cologne, Dusseldorf, Mönchengladbach, Jülich, and the Eifel National Park.

Restrictions on leaving the home, a partially shut-down economy, a halt to long-distance travel: “There are examples from all over the world that show that these measures are having a significant impact on air quality in certain cases, for instance in major cities such as Delhi and London. The air in these places has suddenly improved. Our measurement campaign will show just how the coronavirus shutdown is impacting the air in the Rhineland,” says Jülich climate researcher Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr. The plan is for a series of flights, each lasting six hours and reaching vertical profiles of up to 1,000 metres. Parliamentary State Secretary and member of the German Bundestag Thomas Rachel welcomes and supports the current measurement campaign: “Make no mistake: the shutdown is one of the greatest challenges and burdens for our citizens and for society as a whole. From a scientific perspective however, it provides a unique opportunity for us to measure and investigate now what impacts future developments such as the transformation of the transport sector will have on air quality in the region. There is a great deal we can expect to learn from this, including for the process of structural change in the Rhineland.”

Forschungsstaatssekretär Thomas Rachel MdB und Klimaforscherin Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr.Parliamentary State Secretary and member of the German Bundestag Thomas Rachel and climate researcher Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

Video statements on the launch of the measurement campaign (in German)

Measurements will be taken of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide, and ozone. In addition, two particle counters will record the particulate matter content in the air. The devices – new miniaturized sensors with low electricity consumption – are placed in an aluminium cage weighing 20 kilograms under the passenger cabin. Even before the coronavirus crisis, plans were in place to use this instrument package on repeated passenger flights with the Zeppelin in the Rhineland and to record changes in air quality during the structural change process in the whole region.

Die Box mit den Messgeräten wird unterhalb der Passagierkabine angebracht. Gemessen werden Spurengase und Feinstaub.The cage with the measuring instruments is attached to the bottom of the passenger cabin. It measures trace gases and particulate matter.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

In addition, during the current campaign another rack is being tested with an optical device that detects a number of trace gases relevant to the climate and air quality. The plan is for this device to be a permanent fixture on board the Zeppelin, without the need for an operator. The flights will also enable the measurements from across the region to be compared with measurements on the ground at the stations operated by the State Agency for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection (LANUV), and with Jülich’s own instruments at the Jülich campus and in the MobiLab mobile measuring vehicle. In order to be able to assign the observed data to pollutant groups, the measurements will be supported by model calculations of the air quality.

Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr

„Unique Opportunities for Observation to Bridge Knowledge Gaps“

Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr, director at Jülich’s substitute for troposphere research, is coordinating the measurement campaign and has given an interview on the project’s objectives.

Read the interview

Jülich’s troposphere researchers have used the Zeppelin NT airship, which is based in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, as a measuring platform since 2007. Its unique flight characteristics make it a perfect means of transport for the measuring instruments: “The Zeppelin NT can fly very slowly at low altitude and hover in one place – even for several hours, longer than any helicopter. And like a helicopter, it can increase its altitude vertically for particular measuring profiles. It produces very little noise pollution in the process and therefore causes barely any disturbance when flying over residential areas,” explains Eckhard Beuer, CEO of Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei.

Messkampagne des Forschungszentrums Jülich mit dem Zeppelin NTThe Zeppelin NT airship can fly very slowly, hover in one place, and increase its altitude vertically. Its flight characteristics make it the perfect means of transport for Jülich’s troposphere researchers’ measurement campaigns.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

Photos showing the launch of the measurement campaign

In 2012 and 2013, the subinstitute coordinated the airship’s largest scientific mission to date as part of the European large-scale research project PEGASOS. Three flight campaigns each lasting several weeks visited the Netherlands, the Alps, mainland Italy, the Adriatic Sea, and Finland. These flights examined the correlations between atmospheric chemistry and climate change. The measurement campaigns provided experimental data from a layer of the atmosphere that until then had been studied very little.

Institute of Energy and Climate Research – Troposphere (IEK-8)
Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH

Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr
Institute of Energy and Climate Research – Troposphere (IEK-8)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-4692

Eckhard Breuer
Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH
Tel.: +49 7541 5900- 0

Press contact:
Erhard Zeiss
Press officer, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel.: +49 2461 61-1841