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A 12 Year Study of Atmospheric Pollution in the Central Mediterranean
A Maltese - German Project, 1993 - 2009
by Professor Raymond Ellul, Physics Department, University of Malta

Date: Friday, 29 May 2009
Time: 1900hrs - 2000hrs
Place: Main Hall of the Ministry for Gozo

Professor Ellul runs the University (GAW) Atmospheric Research station located at Giordan lighthouse, Gozo and is project leader of a University initiative to upgrade this facility by the end of this year, using EU Structural funds. He has discussed and agreed with many participants at the meeting held at the World Meteorological Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, new initiatives for Pollution and Climate Change research programmes to be implemented as from next year. These participants include many German and Swiss organisations and research institutes as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Boulder, Colorado, the leading United States organisation in the field. Prof. Ellul summarised the last 12 years’ work, carried out by the University of Malta as the responsible Maltese academic entity appointed by World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to run the GAW station.

Professor Ellul started his talk by thanking all his previous and present co-workers and collaborators both locally and internationally.

Professor Ellul's presentation described the formation of the Earth 4700 million years ago and explained how its atmosphere developed to its present state, formed 570 million years ago. The greenhouse effect was then explained in simple terms and the global atmospheric circulation currents revealed with all their implications for the transport of pollutants around the globe and particularly the Mediterranean sea at 36 degrees North at the junction of two major Hadley cells.

Projections of the trace gas emissions, temperature and sea level rise were presented and the speaker then described the Earth's deep ocean circulation currents and their significance for climate change. Prof. Ellul presented projections for the Arctic and Antarctic Ice sheets and recounted the history of ice ages over the last few million years. The story of the Ozone concentration in the upper and lower atmosphere was described, distinguishing between the two interrelated but distinct phenomena. The presentation included some very informative shots of the present state of the ozone hole over Antarctica.

The speaker described The Global Atmospheric Watch Programme of the World Meteorological Organisation and then moved on to the question of the Mediterranean region, presenting some startling satellite photographs of Etna emissions, Saharan dust events and their effects on the Maltese Islands. Prof. Ellul described the location of the Global Atmospheric Watch station at Giordan lighthouse, Gozo, giving the reasons for choosing this strategic location and the instruments that have been functioning there over the last 12 years. The speaker then described the global ozone concentrations, both predicted and measured.

Prof. Ellul spoke of the actual measurement campaigns; the first was the ADIOS campaign to measure mineral dust and nutrients 2002 - 2003. The second was a three dimensional colour chart of the measured ozone concentrations over the twelve years' work and a poster showing modelling of ships' emissions effects on the Maltese islands. Prof. Ellul said it was no wonder that ozone concentrations were high. Featured also were recirculation events from the Maltese islands themselves. The measurement results from the Max Planck institute's 2001 MINOS campaign were shown and explained in terms of the transport of long range pollutants from the American continent, Northern Europe and South East Asia. The actual data for Ozone, Carbon monoxide and Sulphur dioxide were presented in a series of four graphs and the implications for the identification of regional and local emissions explained.
A further most interesting result was that showing Ozone concentrations from 1884 - 1900 compared with the present day ones. Historical records discovered at the Seminary in Victoria, Gozo and now archived at the University library, show that the Ozone concentration 100 years ago was a factor of 4-5 times lower than at present due to the industrialisation of the Mediterranean region.

The conclusions of the speaker were that:

  • Ozone concentrations have probably increased by a factor of 4 – 5 over the last century.
  • Ozone concentrations in the Central Mediterranean show a present day median value of around 50 ppbv – One of the highest in the Northern hemisphere with a correspondingly serious effect on local crop losses.
  • Many anthropogenic (man made) events appear to originate from Sicily and Europe.
  • The Carbon monoxide concentration shows a typical Northern hemisphere variation with many anthropogenic events being identified originating in Northern and Southern Europe.
  • The Sulphur dioxide background is high with peaks both from the direction of the main island of Malta as well as the Malta – Sicily channel and possibly Etna.
  • The Ships’ traffic in the Malta – Sicily channel needs to be quantified and the emissions measured. International action needs to be taken to limit these emissions.
Professor Ellul ended his talk by stating that much work still remained to be carried out and that the purpose of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 078 was the setting up of a modern research station for both local and international use as part of Malta's contribution to the UN programmes. This station would be set up with new equipment to measure background concentrations of Ozone, Carbon monoxide Sulphur dioxide, Nitrogen oxides, a wide variety of aerosols and black carbon emissions from ships as well as radioactive Radon emissions. Sampling of Particulates and analysis of Persistent Organic Pollutants and trace gases using flask sampling in collaboration with renowned institutes in Germany, Norway and the United States would also take place as agreed at the WMO meeting held at the beginning of May 2009 in Geneva.


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