Research 365: Developing Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas and Transboundary Air Pollution Monitoring Network

Authors: Damien Martin and Colin O’Dowd

Summary: The Atmospheric Composition and Climate Change (AC3) network is an established national research and monitoring infrastructure developed incrementally. It monitors greenhouse gases, short-lived climate forcers, and aerosol chemical and physical characteristics in line with best practice from pan-European and global monitoring programmes. This fellowship has enabled and sustained scientific operations for a national monitoring network.

Report cover

Published: 2021

ISBN: 978-1-84095-980-2

Pages: 71

Filesize: 4,913 KB

Format: pdf


Project Highlights

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The Atmospheric Composition and Climate Change (AC3) network is an established valuable national research and monitoring infrastructure that has been developed incrementally and monitors greenhouse gases (GHGs), short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs), and aerosol chemical and physical characteristics in line with best practice from both pan-European and global monitoring programmes. GHG measurements are undertaken under the umbrella of the Integrated Carbon Observing System (ICOS) pan-European research infrastructure, whereas additional observations are conducted under the European Evaluation and Monitoring Programme (EMEP – the co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe). The report describes the operation, development and expansion of the network activities and infrastructure.

Identifying Pressures

Climate change is recognised as one of the most challenging problems facing humanity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that “human influence is clear”. The 2015 Paris Agreement established a global policy response to climate change. A key objective of that agreement is that global GHG emissions are balanced with removals during the second half of this century. Achievement of both the national and global emission reduction pathways will require an increased understanding of emissions and removals by sinks and the processes by which the latter can be enhanced. Measurements of GHGs on the AC3 network can be used with modelling techniques to verify emissions inventories and, in particular, to assess the balance of emissions and removals from the land sector.

Air pollution is increasingly recognised as a problem for human health in Ireland and elsewhere. This has been highlighted by the World Health Organization. Air pollution levels in Ireland are influenced by local emissions and by emissions in Europe and North America (hemispheric transport is important for some pollutants). Actions to address air pollution are taken at these levels and include the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and its protocols, which link to the European Commission’s Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme and the European Union National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive. These have a range of linked reporting, monitoring and assessment requirements. EMEP is a body under the CLRTAP that addresses the requirement that Parties have to undertake air quality monitoring. A fundamental understanding of the nature, scope and magnitude of transboundary air pollution – the research and monitoring of which is carried out using the AC3 network – is essential to understand its relative source contribution and to support national and international efforts to improve air quality.

Informing Policy

A national GHG monitoring and analysis network, especially one linked to the ICOS European Research Infrastructure Consortium, can help to resolve fundamental issues relating to Ireland’s GHG emissions. These can inform future climate change policy and include:

  • reducing uncertainties to an acceptable level so that the nature and extent of the sources and sinks of GHGs in Ireland can be robustly determined;
  • assessing how meteorological and other factors influence these sinks on seasonal to decadal timescales, and the interplay between these and management systems;
  • highlighting geographical areas with high levels of uncertainty in a bottom-up analysis of gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane;
  • producing an independent integrated and comprehensive analysis of emissions and removals in Ireland in the context of a GHG neutrality goal for the agriculture sector.

Monitoring of aerosol chemical and physical characteristics and other SLCFs can be used to elucidate transboundary air pollution and underpin national and international monitoring strategies.

Developing Solutions

This fellowship has enabled and sustained scientific operations for a national monitoring network. The infrastructure has been continually developed over the course of the fellowship and this will facilitate long-term sustainable measurements. Given both the national and international importance of climate change, it is critical to maintain a level of investment in infrastructure, analytical systems and associated complementary measurements to ensure that Ireland is at the forefront of this critical area to inform policy and facilitate meaningful solutions. Ireland is at the forefront of GHG and transboundary air pollution monitoring. Further development of the inversion modelling techniques to include SLCFs would be an important extension of network capability, particularly in the area of source apportionment and emissions verification. Robust source apportionment of air pollution is essential to understanding the complex nature of its sources and identifying where to target policies to improve air quality and maximise societal benefit.