Rajasthan university dives into desert dust’s impact on air quality

Researchers at the Central University of Rajasthan (CUoR) have started studying the impact of desert dust and emissions by human activity on air quality and climate change, under a project funded by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The research falls within the domain of atmospheric chemistry.

Kishangarh-based CuoR is the first academic institution to get research grant from the country’s national space agency, ISRO, headquartered in Bengaluru. The university’s Department of Atmospheric Science will look for remedies to curb the menace of degrading air quality in the State by deploying new instruments and conducting field studies.

CUoR Vice-Chancellor Anand Bhalerao told The Hindu that the researchers would measure the atmospheric “trace gases”, present in small amounts, influenced by dominance of desert dust and natural and anthropogenic emissions. “Our mission is to study the changes in atmospheric chemistry and recommend measures to improve the quality of air for both flora and fauna,” he said.

Prof. Bhalerao said the university had earlier worked with Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre for three years under a project for stratified biomass modelling, using hyperspectral data, which started in 2017. A team of the CUoR’s Department of Environmental Science had handled the project, which dealt with the renewable organic material coming from plants and animals.

ISRO’s grant

The ISRO-funded project, with the grant of ₹34.70 lakh for the first year, will make an attempt to discern the ambient air with the help of state-of-the-art instruments and advance the scientific understanding of physical, chemical and photochemical processes of atmospheric particles, gases and radicals.

“The scale of the issue is so huge that a Nobel Prize was awarded in 2007 to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) along with former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore for disseminating knowledge about climate change to facilitate steps to tackle it,” Chinmay Mallik, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science, said.

The Indo-Gangetic Plains have high levels of anthropogenic emissions and the gases, smoke and fog travel to long distances, including Rajasthan, influencing the air quality and health at far-off places. Dr. Mallik said while the role of atmospheric chemistry in processing these pollutants was yet to be fully understood, the researchers would study the “production and loss processes” which create a balance for concentration of atmospheric gases.

The study would be significant in terms of comparison between emissions brought in from Delhi and Indo-Gangetic Plain and the local emission of trace gases in Kishangarh, besides identifying the reaction mechanisms as a result of loss of gases through deposition and interaction between gases and aerosols, comprising suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air, said Dr. Mallik.

The facilities developed in the project will be clubbed with funding from other projects, such as the Department of Science & Technology’s Science and Engineering Research Board and University Grants Commission’s start-up, to establish a state-of-the-art atmospheric chemistry laboratory in the university. The lab will study varied influences of factors such as industrial and vehicular emissions and desert dust.

Dr. Mallik, who has expertise in atmospheric oxidation and self-cleansing mechanisms, said while the hydroxyl radical, known as “detergent of the atmosphere”, could provide some solutions, the project would make recommendations for framing policies on improving the air quality on the basis of its analysis of chemical reactions and identification of sources and sinks of different atmospheric constituents.

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