Dr Melita Keywood beside a particle measuring device

Measuring, monitoring and analysing air pollution

CSIRO atmospheric scientists are instrumental in Australian efforts to investigate the airborne particles that cause air pollution, a major environmental issue that affects people’s health, reduces visibility, and influences climate.

  • 3 January 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011

For more than 30 years, CSIRO has been at the forefront of research into the sources, behaviour and impacts of air pollution. CSIRO scientists have expertise in the measurement, monitoring and analysis of atmospheric aerosol, or airborne particles, and identifing the sources, behaviour and impacts of aerosol.

Our research scientists regularly work with industry, government agencies and local authorities to identify air quality problems, perform comprehensive analysis and modelling, and suggest solutions.

We are able to undertake:

  • air quality measurements on all scales from personal exposure to regional assessments, both indoor and outdoor
  • full chemical and physical characterisation of aerosol
  • determination of size-fractionated chemistry (particle diameter 100 nm to 20 mm) and supporting reactive gas measurements
  • supporting meteorological data and modelling
  • 3-D mapping of aerosol fields via remote sensing
  • plume tracking and vehicle emission measurements
  • expert interpretation of measurements
  • aerosol transport modelling from a local scale (point sources) up to a continental scale.

Skills and facilities

Our skills and facilities make available a full suite of sophisticated analytical techniques including: 

For more than 30 years, CSIRO has been at the forefront of research into the sources, behaviour and impacts of air pollution.
  • ion chromatography
  • carbon combustion analysis
  • humidity-controlled microbalance
  • aerosol microphysics instrumentation (aerodynamic particle sizing, active cavity laser size spectrometry and mobility analysis)
  • continuous airborne mass determination (PM2.5, PM10)
  • electron microscopy.

Other tools include modern nephelometers for determining the light scattering coefficient, and remote detection of aerosol using satellite sensors and lidar (light detection and ranging).

Solutions and measurement campaigns

Combining our atmospheric expertise with other CSIRO science disciplines we have developed two successful air quality forecasting and modelling solutions, the Australian Air Quality Forecasting System and The Air Pollution Model.

We have carried out measurement campaigns in every major city in Australia and in rural air sheds such as Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. Recent work in South-East Asia includes air quality studies in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

This applied work is backed by a strategic research program that includes long-term aerosol measurements at the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station in north-west Tasmania. The Cape Grim program, to monitor and study global atmospheric composition, is a joint responsibility of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

CSIRO also collaborates with other research institutions in global aerosol research and contributes to international research programs.

Recent air quality clients include:

  • Department of Environmental Protection, Western Australia
  • Environment Australia
  • Mt Isa Mines Ltd
  • Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Malaysia
  • Department of Environment, Malaysia
  • AusAID.

Find out more about CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research.