Demonstration of a methodology to summarise and track air pollution effects on ecosystems at regional scales: Project summary

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1 Demonstration of a methodology to summarise and track air pollution effects on ecosystems at regional scales: Project summary The primary audiences for this summary (and the other project outputs) are devolved and regional administrations; although it will also be of interest to others (e.g. conservation bodies, academia, and environmental consultancies). Background to research The existing tools available for investigating impacts of air pollutants on ecosystems consist of national maps and a locallevel information database in the form of the Air Pollution Information System (APIS, The national maps are based on modelled air pollutant data and underlying habitat maps, but they cannot readily be interrogated by a user to focus on defined geographical areas and are not produced on an annual basis. APIS provides what is currently the most comprehensive source of readily available information on the risk of detrimental impacts of air pollution on ecosystems. However, APIS and the national maps leave a number of key information gaps: No tool currently exists that can utilise existing, various datasets to allow users (e.g. devolved and regional administrations) to easily make regional-level assessments. There is currently no way to summarise overall impacts on habitats from air pollutants. No tool is available to track the temporal improvement or deterioration in air pollutant impacts. The first phase of this project developed a methodology to summarise the impacts of air pollutants on ecosystems based on critical loads and critical levels, in order to provide an overview of the current risk of harm to ecosystems from air pollutants, and to track temporal changes. The second phase of this project tested and evaluated the methodology s ability to fulfil its intended purpose through a pilot demonstration in North Yorkshire. A tiered approach The methodology is split into two tiers of risk classification and one tier of validation as summarised below in Figure 1. The pilot demonstration that was undertaken involved the Tiers 1 and 2 (the first two of three proposed tiers of risk classification) to investigate the value and functionality of the methodology and to visualise how the outputs could be presented. Data from a current year () were used to demonstrate how current air pollution impacts could be presented at both a UK level and for a defined regional demonstration area: North Yorkshire. Data from three historic years (, 2001 and 2005) were used to investigate the sensitivity of the methodology to temporal changes in impacts. Figure 1 - An overview of the methodology. Tier 1 Tier 2 Combined impact of deposition against critical loads and critical levels to assign each 1km x 1km grid square to Low, Medium or High risk categories. Outputs at a national scale. More detailed classification of risk using an additional ten levels of risk within the Medium and High categories within a defined area. Outputs at a regional or local scale. Tier 3 Validation of risk level and reduction of uncertainty using quantitative data inputs derived at a local level.

2 Databases The database development and subsequent analysis was performed using the ESRI ArcGIS desktop software platform. The datasets used for the demonstration are listed in Table 1. These were imported into ArcGIS in raster format to a resolution of 1km x 1km. Table 1 - Datasets included in the demonstration phase. Dataset Source Years Total nitrogen deposition (Ndep) (moorland) (kg/ha/yr) CEH, 2001, 2005, Total nitrogen deposition (Ndep) (woodland) (kg/ha/yr) CEH, 2001, 2005, Total sulphur deposition (Sdep) (moorland) (kg/ha/yr) CEH, 2001, 2005, Total sulphur deposition (Sdep) (woodland) (kg/ha/yr) CEH, 2001, 2005, Ammonia (NH 3 ) concentration (µg/m 3 ) CEH 199, 2002, 2005, Oxides of nitrogen (NO X ) concentration (µg/m 3 ) AEA, 2001, 2005, Sulphur dioxide (SO 2 ) concentration (µg/m 3 ) AEA, 2001, 2005, Ozone (O 3 ) AOT 40 (µg/m 3.h) a AEA 2005, Critical loads for nutrient nitrogen (Min and Max CL Nut N) CEH 2003 Critical loads for acid deposition (CL Max S, CL Min N, CL Max N) CEH 2003 Mapped habitat data (10 UK BAP habitats) CEH 2003 Tier 1 risk classifications Each grid square was assigned a Red, Amber or Green category. This assignment was undertaken differently for each of the different pollutants as summarised in Table 2. The queries used for assigning risk were applied to every 1km x 1km grid square in the UK where a habitat was identified, and to each habitat present. In order to produce a summary map of the effects of all pollutants on all habitats, the worst case risk assigned to each grid square was used. For example, if in a grid square a Green risk was identified for all critical level pollutant impacts and also for nutrient nitrogen deposition, but one habitat flagged a Red risk for acid deposition, then the square was assigned as a Red (High) risk of impacts from air pollutants. Table 2 - Risk classification determination criteria. Tier 1 risk level assigned Nutrient nitrogen deposition Acid deposition (calculation) NH 3, NOx, SO 2, and O 3 Green (Low) No exceedence of the minimum nutrient nitrogen critical load If((Sdep + Ndep) CLmaxSmin(Ndep,CLminN))=0 Modelled concentration critical level Amber (Medium) Exceedence of the minimum but not the maximum nutrient nitrogen critical load value - - Red (High) Exceedence of the maximum nutrient nitrogen critical load value If((Sdep + Ndep) CLmaxSmin(Ndep,CLminN))>0 Modelled concentration > critical level 2

3 Figure 2 - National (Tier 1) outputs: All habitats and all pollutants National (Tier 1) appraisal The maps in Figure 2 and Figure 3 clearly show areas of Low, Medium and High risk. The maps are dominated by the High (Red) risk category. This may not facilitate the geographical prioritisation for action to reduce impacts and may mask the fact that many habitats within the High risk areas are not affected by air pollutants. However, it does demonstrate the current situation with respect to the overall impact that air pollutants are having across ecosystems in the UK. One key limitation of the methodology so far is that only one pollutant is generating a Medium or amber category. A mechanism to provide an amber category for the acid critical loads was investigated. However, due to the complex nature of the calculation of exceedance of the acidity critical loads, no scientifically robust medium level risk category was finalised. The GIS platform gives the flexibility of mapping different chosen combinations of habitats and pollutants. This is a useful tool if the user is interested in specific issues and allows for specific questions on impacts to be investigated at a greater level of detail. The maps demonstrate a degree of temporal sensitivity in the overall UK maps for all pollutants and habitats. This is particularly evident in Scotland where the area covered by habitats having either a Low and Medium risk (as opposed to a High risk) increases with each subsequent study year. Figure 3 - National (Tier 1) outputs: All pollutants and dwarf shrub

4 Tier 2 classifications Tier 2 involves a more detailed classification of risk to summarise impacts across a defined area and provide a mechanism to track changes over time. Figure 4 (to the right) presents the ten different levels of risk used within Tier 2, with the arrow indicating a decreasing level of risk. Each of the levels of risk moving from 1 up to 10 represents an additional 10% of the total area of the chosen region that is allocated to that risk level. Therefore Red Level 8 equates to 70 to 80% of an area being designated as High or Red risk. Figure 4 - Tier 2 classification. High risk of impacts Red Level 10 Red Level 1 Amber Level 10 Low risk of impacts Amber Level 1 Negligible risk of impacts Green Figure 5 - Summary of potential regional (Tier 2) outputs for North Yorkshire. Nutrient nitrogen deposition on acid grassland habitat. Ammonia concentration, all habitats Regional (Tier 2) appraisal Figure 5 summarises how the maps, in conjunction with the statistics and/or graphics, provide easy-to-understand indications of the risk to ecosystems in different regional areas. This can be used to track changes temporally and also to compare a region with one or more other regions. The ability to show the maps with a chosen habitat/pollutant combination provides a potentially highly versatile tool for investigating different issues that the user may wish to explore. Potential users include environment protection agency officers/local authority officers responsible for permitting industrial processes, conservation officers responsible for designated sites, and local authority officers responsible for biodiversity and/or air pollution regulation. Temporal sensitivity was evident in all examples presented. 4

5 Accumulated exceedances The amount of excess deposition of a given pollutant above a habitat critical load is called the exceedance. Accumulated exceedance (AE) incorporates both the area of habitat exceeded and the amount of the exceedance. This provides an indication of the potential for harm to a habitat. AE values for each habitat are then summed across a defined area. For this demonstration, the project team summed the AE for each habitat within each grid square to produce a UK-wide map of AE values for each 1km x 1km grid square. Figure 6 - Accumulated exceedance acid deposition (eq/yr). Accumulated exceedance appraisal The maps in Figure 6 clearly show the distribution of accumulated exceedances across the UK and the user is immediately able to establish an idea of a range of impacts. Temporal sensitivity is also evident with discernable improvements seen between and. Accumulated exceedance provides a quantification of exceedance (i.e. of the quantity of depositions above the relevant critical load) as opposed to simply flagging that an exceedance exists. A similar calculation of AE could be undertaken for concentrations of each ambient pollutant above the relevant critical level. However, this method does not allow for a summary of all impacts from air pollutants to be presented. One option discussed in the project report (on which this summary is based) is to calculate the proportion of exceedance above the relevant threshold for each pollutant and then sum these across all pollutants. A similar methodology is employed by the US EPA in their Health Hazard Assessment Protocol 1. This is a multi-pathway, site-specific human health risk assessment which is calculated for each pollutant based on the proportion of exceedance above a given threshold. The total Hazard Index (HI) for an individual is calculated by combining the HIs for all of the different chemicals. An HI above 1 is considered to be of potential concern. Summarising the impacts of multiple pollutants on multiple habitats within each grid square provides a more complex scenario but this may be a methodology to explore further

6 Key findings and recommendations There are potentially wide applications using further boundary subsets (e.g. designated site boundaries) and the Tier 2 classification could provide an important tool for identification and prioritisation of the sites considered to be most at risk. Several issues were identified during this project as requiring further investigation or discussion: The overall maps showing all pollutants and all habitats are dominated by the High (Red) risk category. The omission of sensitive lichen and bryophyte habitats in the methodology due to a lack of a compatible and comprehensive dataset. Only one pollutant has the capability within this methodology to generate a Medium or amber category in the Tier 1 classification. The inherent uncertainties in the datasets are not addressed by Tiers 1 and 2 of the methodology. The aim of Tier 3 is to address the uncertainties in the risk classifications by assessment and validation against field data and biomonitoring. Methodological changes in how datasets are derived may introduce artificial artefacts when considering long-term trends. The calculation of accumulated exceedances (AE) provides the most useful visual outputs, but does not allow for a summary of all impacts from all air pollutants to be presented on one map. The future direction of the methodology depends on resources and user requirements. A number of options have been presented on how this system could be taken forward to the next stage. Each has its challenges with respect to cost and/or functionality. If a compromise is to be made between cost and functionality, it is important to canvas users fully to ensure that the functionality of the tool is optimised. This extended summary was developed as part of SNIFFER project ER07. This summary, along with the other project outputs, are available for free download from (Enter ER07 in Project Search field). This project was supported by: Scottish Environment Protection Agency Environment Agency Joint Nature Conservation Committee Scottish Natural Heritage Northern Ireland Environment Agency For further information, contact: SNIFFER Phone: This project was delivered by: AEA Technology Ltd Scotland & Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER), Scottish Charity No SC022375, Company No SC Registered in Edinburgh. Registered Office: Edinburgh Quay, 133 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, EH3 9AG SNIFFER is a charitable company which aims to increase knowledge to help protect our environment and improve quality of life. We target our activities towards policy makers and implementers as well as other organisations with whom we work in partnership. SNIFFER 2011

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