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Air quality modelling expert retires as IAQM chair

Professor Bernard Fisher, chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management for the past seven years, marks his retirement with a retrospective lecture on his career, writes Michael Holder

The outgoing chair of the Institute of Air Quality, Professor Bernard Fisher, marked his retirement with a lecture on air quality modelling in London last night (March 11).

Professor Fisher, a visiting professor at the University of Hertfordshire and former principal scientist at the Environment Agency, officially stepped down as chair of the Institute of Air Quality (IAQM) after seven years at the start of this year. He has been replaced by Clean Air Thinking consultant, Roger Barrowcliffe.

Professor Bernard Fisher marked his retirement as chair of IAQM with a lecture in London

Professor Bernard Fisher marked his retirement as chair of IAQM with a lecture in London

The IAQM is the membership organisation for air quality professionals, which produces guidance and reports on science, modelling and legal issues surrounding air quality.

The lecture, ‘Counting Air Quality, Making Air Quality Count’, gave a retrospective view of Professor Fisher’s career, looking at various achievements in dispersion modelling over the years and what the future may hold.

Air quality modelling uses various mathematical and scientific methods to calculate concentrations of pollutants, whereas measured air quality is based on actual readings of pollution at monitoring sites. Modelling is used to estimate pollution levels from specific sources or in areas that do not have monitoring sites.

The lecture was introduced by Mr Barrowcliffe, who thanked Professor Fisher for his work as IAQM chair, commenting that his “energy and enthusiasm has taken us forward considerably and he has left us in a much better place than when he took on the role seven years ago.”

He added: “In those early years, we were a fledgling organisation with an uncertain role in the world. Now, we are a thriving institute providing over 300 members with an enhanced professional status and a growing reputation as the natural home of air quality professionals.”

For his part, Professor Fisher explained how air quality modelling had advanced in the years since he started out advising the power station industry and later tackling issues surrounding acid rain in the 1970s. “When we first started out in air pollution modelling, it was relatively new and we didn’t know exactly what we were doing or going to achieve,” he said.

He then gave an overview of his later career working on air quality management as professor of environmental modelling at the University of Greenwich in 1994, before joining the Environment Agency, where he has managed air pollution research with a focus on environmental models.

For air quality today, he said, the focus was more on nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, whereas soot and sulphur emissions from coal burning had been the main issue for governments and industry previously.

Future of modelling

Looking to the future, he said: “Of course the improvements in air quality have been considerable in many ways. However, we are heading towards the situation where we are reaching technological limits in modelling and measuring.”

Professor Fisher also warned that it was easy to get too carried away with the complexity of modelling and various equations, whereas often decisions are based on a slightly more general view of air pollution levels.

He said: “It is impressive what people can do and we should encourage that kind of activity, but we need to get the overall picture as well. Scientists can sometimes be guilty of getting too excited by complex equations – equations sometimes need to be held back a little bit.”

A Defra report published last month suggested that the modelling approach used in the UK to compile air quality data may be resulting in greater numbers of EU air pollution exceedences in comparison to other European countries (see airqualitynews.com story).

More information on the IAQM is available on its website.

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