Scientific challenge: 

Reducing air pollution and its impacts on ecosystems, food production and human health is a huge challenge. Ground-level ozone reduces yield of sensitive crops species such as wheat, affects growth of and causes leaf injury in sensitive plant species, and results in worsening respiratory diseases, leading to premature death of humans.

Enhanced atmospheric nitrogen deposition adversely affects biodiversity of ecosystems and contributes to high air concentrations of secondary inorganic aerosols, which adversely affect human health.

The key challenge is the development of strategies to mitigate the impacts of both pollutants, in particular their combined effects in the current and future climate.

Boardwalks at Whim Bog
Cars in the sunlight. Photo: Shutterstock

Project overview: 

The overall aim of this project is to develop risk assessment methodology for combined impacts of air pollutants and associated climate stresses on biodiversity, ecosystems and human health based on exposure experiments and modelling. New spatially explicit methods will be applied to quantify current and future risk at local, regional and global scales. This work links to the NERC strategy of “Cleaning up our air” and underpins (inter)national policies on impacts of air pollution.

Core areas of research:

  • Experimental field investigation of effects of realistic combinations of ozone and nitrogen pollution on key UK ecosystems (bog and mesotrophic grassland) and the services they support. Experimentation on the effects of ozone under future climates on grasslands and crops.
  • Development of ecosystem process-based models to predict the consequences of combined ozone and nitrogen pollution effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functions, including greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Analysis of the combined effects of ozone and nitrogen pollution on carbon allocation and nitrogen use efficiency in vegetation.
  • Modelling of recent long-term changes (40 years) in vegetation and human health exposure to air pollutants at a high spatial and temporal resolution.
  • Quantification of the benefits for vegetation of future air pollution scenarios, including reducing peak ozone concentration. New flux-based global assessments of risk of ozone damage to crops.
  • Comparisons of outputs from models currently used for UK air pollution policy.
  • Provision of a first conceptual approach for assessing the combined effects of atmospheric and groundwater sources of nitrogen pollution on wetland communities. 

O3 and NO2 pollutants over the UK 2001-2014 modelled by EMEP4UK
Above: O3 and NO2 pollutants over the UK between 2001-2014 modelled by EMEP4UK

Core project team:



  • Natural Environment Research Council