NERC commits to working with China on air pollution research and critical zone observatories

28 May 2014

NERC has signed a statement of intent (SoI) with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) to work together on research into air pollution and human health.

The SoI outlines how the organisations will provide both new knowledge on Chinese air pollution issues, and the evidence to support cost-effective measures to improve the health consequences of air pollution in the country's mega-cities.

The SoI also aims to build lasting academic relationships between China and the UK.

Air pollution is a severe problem in China. Smog hangs heavy over Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and children grow up with asthma and other respiratory problems.

Concentrations of one pollutant of particular concern, PM2.5, exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an.

Techniques and technology developed in the western world to control such pollution are unlikely to be effective. This is because the causes of air pollution in China are different to those which led to the development of technologies to improve air quality in the western world in the 1950s and 60s.

Instead, specific regional studies that help scientists understand the sources and atmospheric transformations of air pollutants are needed. These studies will be important in helping provide predictive capability for the impact of region-specific mitigation measures, and to create sustainable monitoring and compliance technologies.

NERC's director of science, Professor Iain Gillespie, signed the SoI together with MRC's head of international strategy, Dr Mark Palmer, and NSFC's vice president, Professor Liu Congqiang, in London on 24 April 2014.

Professor Gillespie said:

We're delighted to have signed a statement of intent with the MRC and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. It signals NERC's ambition to forge a positive, collaborative and long-term relationship with the NSFC and strong cooperation between UK and Chinese environmental scientists.

Professor Liu said:

The signing of both statements not only signifies a good starting point for NERC-NSFC joint activities, but also shows the commitment that NSFC and NERC have made for future collaboration. I believe the collaboration will be productive and beneficial to scientific communities in both UK and China.

This SoI is not legally binding and can only be amended in writing and subject to agreement by NSFC, NERC and MRC.

At the same time, NERC signed a SoI with NSFC to work together to support critical zone observatories.

The so-called critical zone is the thin envelope between the treetops and the bedrock that sustains most of the planet's terrestrial life. The layer includes the air, organisms, soil and water, right down to the bedrock.

Critical zone observatories are a multi-disciplinary systems approach to studying and monitoring this layer. Observatories are typically field research facilities that are covered with instruments and monitored to support experimental design over the long term.

By researching how organisms, rock, air, water, and soil interact, scientists hope to better understand natural habitats as well as food availability and water quality.

Both SoIs will run for five years in the first instance.


Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


Press release: 14/14