Quantifying the growing threat to plant and human health from ground-level ozone

This research theme focuses on the growing threat from ground-level ozone to crops, semi-natural vegetation and human health, and the processes which regulate removal of ozone at the Earth’s surface.

This is urgently required because background concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere are increasing, such that average annual ozone, formed at ground level from the effect of sunlight on vehicle and industrial emissions, is a major pollutant of concern. Background concentrations have increased in recent decades to levels in many areas of the UK that are close to the thresholds for effects on sensitive vegetation.

Ozone pollution affects human health, crop production, and the vitality of our trees and wild plants. Typical effects on plants include fine pale yellow or brown spots on the leaves and reduced seed production. Our research uses state-of-the-art exposure facilities (solardomes) to study the impacts of ozone on a range of plant species including the traits which enhance their sensitivity.



Ozone damage to buttercup plant
Buttercup plant damaged by ozone

Our aim is to quantity the effects of ozone on the vitality of vegetation. This information, together with results from ozone monitoring studies, is being used to map the impacts of ozone on crops and wild plants across Europe, allowing policy-makers in Europe to understand the current and potential future damage caused by the pollutant. 

Working at the interface between science and policy, CEH coordinates the International Cooperative Programme on Effects of Air Pollution on Natural Vegetation and Crops, a major international collaborative project that reports on ozone impacts to the United Nations.

Research on ozone is carried out at CEH's Edinburgh and Bangor sites.