Aerosols in Po Valley, Italy - measuring right on time

The original plan was to prepare for an upcoming winter 2020 campaign to investigate one of Europe’s most polluted areas: the Po Valley region in Italy. Federico Bianchi sent an ion spectrometer (NAIS) from INAR to Po Valley in February with the idea to get the aerosol seasonal concentrations in anticipation of the winter campaign. Perfect timing. Weeks later, and he may have missed the chance to monitor the impact of the Italian covid lockdown.


The original Winter campaigned is to be equipped with aerosol size-distributions and mass spectrometers in a collaboration between INAR, Stockholm University and the Italian hosts, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and the National Research Council of Italy (CNR, Bologna). But for now, the focus is on the lockdown effect on air quality and new particle formation (NPF).

Federico teamed up with Alessandro Bigi from University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and with Angela Marinoni from CNR, Bologna who managed to retrieve the NAIS from storage and install it in the university premises during lockdown, following a series of certification and letters of recommendations to make it happen. Despite the difficulties in accessing the premises, once installation occurred, checking the data was easy thanks to the software prepared by the INAR team Markus Lampimaki and Janne Lampilahti. The NAIS instrument was shipped with a laptop that thanks to a working internet can send the data automatically to the INAR raw data folder and allows for remote visualization of the data (by the way, shout-out to Pekka Rantala for his shipping savvy). From Helsinki, Janne and Markus could check the data quality and recommend cleaning the instrument – which happened after two months of Po Valley air despite the lessening of traffic.

Which leads us to the question, is the air really getting cleaner after the shutdown?

The team has access to the region’s environmental agency local monitoring of trace gases as well as road traffic data. “PM is slightly decreased, ozone increased, and NOx decreased”, explained Federico. The Po Valley is a highly industrialized region and active in agriculture, so while traffic emissions where heavily reduced, the contributions from industry and agriculture remain.

The data also shows frequent NPF. It is interesting to compare it to the NPF observed during the lockdown in China with the Beijing datasets that INAR is also working with; Different main trace gases, China is rich in SO2 unlike its European counterpart, traffic emissions decreased in both, and both see NPF events. Unfortunately, there are no chemistry observations to go with the NAIS data in Po Valley until December. But additional future plans? Federico would like to see a joint overview from the interspersed research that is happening in the North Italy region.

For now we can enjoy a peek of the NAIS data and NPF events of the last couple of days in Po Valley thanks to Janne. He made a website that visualizes NAIS plots from Po Valley, Jungfraujoch (‘jfj’, Switzerland), Hyytiälä (Hitu and Tower), Värriö (Kylmis and Koto), Kumpula SMEAR III (Urban), and Qvidja (farm plot) with the latest data.

Text: Stephany Mazon interview with Federico Bianchi, Markus Lampimaki and Janne Lampilahti. Photo credit: Angela Marinoni and Alessandro Bigi.