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09/2020: Catching pollen and washing leaves

Blog by: Matthias Steinparzer (WP4 Clean air)

This late spring and summer we adapted to the new situation in Europe and were heavily developing our methods instead of traveling around and visiting all Dr. FOREST experimental and exploratory sites. The extremely tiny particulate matter (PM) particles we are measuring (0.2 to 100µm) are hard to catch and even harder to weigh. In comparison, one average grain of sand has a diameter of 90µm and human hair is between 50µm and 70µm thick. The tinier the particle, the further it can travel in a human body starting from the nasal cavity and ending up somewhere in our bloodstream.

We deployed home-made pollen traps at our experimental site B-Tree in Austria to collect pollen and PM that made it through the different tree canopies, which acted as natural air filters. In addition to that, we took leaf samples from the outer layer of the canopies, washed them with distilled water, and analyzed the solutions to determine how much PM was absorbed by leaves of different tree species. As soon as we know that our plans work as we intended them to, we can apply that to every site of the Dr. FOREST project.

As the newly published “Healthy environment, healthy lives” – report of the European Environment Agency states, 400 000 premature deaths in Europe are attributed to ambient air pollution, annually. Clean air is important for everyone, no matter if people are living in the countryside or in urban areas. Long term exposure to air pollution might increase susceptibility to the novel COVID-19 pandemic and once again draws focus on how our global ecosystem and humankind are intertwined. We want to know to what extent biodiversity plays a role in mitigating different aspects of air pollution like particulate matter, pollen, or ozone.