Deepening atmospheric research


Atmospheric composition in Nepal is changing, notably more rapidly over the last decade due to increasing emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gases both inside and outside the country. Air pollution has reached hazardous level in many parts of the country, especially in cities like Kathmandu. 

Therefore, to deepen atmospheric research, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) organized a meeting on 'High Level Update on Atmospheric Research in Nepal' on 26 August 2013 in Kathmandu. 

The meeting updated the findings of the SusKat-ABC campaign, conducted from December 2012 to June 2013 in Nepal, and also shared details about ICIMOD’s ongoing activities under Atmosphere Initiative. 

Speaking at the meeting, Chief Guest Dr Som Lal Subedi, Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, said there is urgent need for collaborative and coordinated research in the field of atmosphere and environment in Nepal. A panel discussion was moderated by Dr Arun B Shrestha of ICIMOD. 

Representatives from Department of Environment, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Department of Transport Management, and ICIMOD discussed the needs, opportunities, and challenges, including regulatory and policy requirements for coordinated atmospheric research in Nepal.

Recent global assessments and local studies indicate that air pollution is linked to several thousand premature deaths and a substantial amount of crop loss every year in Nepal. And with the country’s rapid growth, problems associated with air pollution are only expected to worsen, especially if policies and practices are not steered towards supporting widespread and early implementation of solutions that are firmly grounded in science and based on local specifics. 

New analyses show that fast and widespread implementation of already available air pollution control measures would cost-effectively save human lives, increase agricultural productivity, reduce atmospheric warming, and also help address other socio-economic and developmental challenges that stem from air pollution. The benefits of air pollution control are greatest in and near areas where emissions are reduced, with substantial benefits that also extend to the rest of the world. 

The two new initiatives in the region -- “Reducing impacts of black carbon and other short-lived climate forcing agents” led by ICIMOD focusing on eight ICIMOD member countries in South Asia, and “Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley (SusKat)” led by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Germany, focusing on Nepal -- are aimed at creating the much-needed country/region-specific scientific knowledge base in a more organized and coordinated manner that can be used to design effective mitigation measures and to create enabling local context for promoting fast action on air pollution mitigation. As the first step towards this goal, IASS and ICIMOD, in collaboration with 18 research institutions from 9 countries, including Nepal, conducted an unprecedented atmospheric characterization campaign (SusKat-ABC campaign) in Nepal, mostly in the Kathmandu valley.

Atmospheric research in Nepal is in its infancy. Meteorological monitoring started in the late 1960s and the measurements, although manual, have become real-time. However, the data available needs improvement for effective weather forecasting and early warning systems. Other aspects of atmospheric research such as emissions, physical, chemical, and optical monitoring of the atmosphere, physical processes and mechanisms of transport, transformation, and removal of pollutants, their impacts including linkages to hydrological cycle and glacier melting, and ultimately effective chemical-weather forecasting are limited or do not exist. Only a handful of studies carried out mostly by graduate students provide basic information on physical and chemical properties of atmosphere in Nepal. These studies have, however, mostly focused on air pollution in the Kathmandu valley. 

There is a growing interest among both Nepalese and non-Nepalese scientists in understanding emissions, physical/chemical/optical characterization of the atmosphere, and atmospheric processing of pollutants and their impact in Nepal and surrounding border region. 

Note that northern South Asia is considered one of the most polluted but least studied regions of the world. Among many issues, quantification of emissions of pollutants from various sources and sectors, their transport from Indo-Gangetic plains to Tibetan plateau, transport to upper atmosphere, their impacts on air quality, health, crops, climate, and mountain glaciers, and the resultant socio-economic impacts are some important issues that need further research.