Measuring concentrations of particulate matter, black carbon (BC), and a few gaseous parameters in the air would be possible with the installment of air quality monitoring station (AQMS) at Thimphu, Phuentsholing, and Gedu, Chukha.

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with National Environment Commission (NEC) set up the AQMS in Pasakha industrial zone and at the premises of the College of Science and Technology in Phuentsholing,  a few stations in Thimphu and a station each in Chelela and Gedu.

The AQMS in Chelela is the first high-altitude site in Bhutan located at an approximate elevation of 4,200 metres.

The station at Chelela inaugurated on May 15 will measure higher altitude inflow of BC towards the Himalayan cryosphere.

BC plays an important role in melting snowfields and glaciers by darkening white surfaces and warming air in contact with snowfields and glaciers.

ICIMOD’s senior atmospheric scientist, Arnico K Panday, said that the station will help understand the production of BC within the country and arrival of BC in the Himalayan region from outside Bhutan.

He said that the stations would also help understand the direction of the BC and the time it takes to reach higher elevation. “And once we have this data we can work towards addressing the issues. In Bhutan, there is a practice of burning the cypress branches in the morning. And we don’t know if contributes largely or less but understanding the amount it contribute will help.”

The station will specify the sources of the black carbon such as fossil fuel, garbage fire, leaves, and wood.

“Globally, we have very few site at 4000 metres. The Chelela site would be developed for much more research in future and be a place for global importance for atmospheric monitoring,” Arnico K Panday said.

The stations in Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Chukha will monitor the pollutants in the ambient air.

The AQMS in Thimphu measures surface ozone, sulphur dioxide produced due to burning of fossil fuels, carbon monoxide produced due to combustion of fuel, and nitrogen oxides, which are produced during combustion in vehicle engines. The station also measures particulate matter concentration, which can affect the heart and lungs causing serious health effects.

The station in Pasakha will measure the content of sulphur in the atmosphere in the area among others.

The data from the stations is expected to help further understand pollution and motivate actions to reduce emission.

“With the data from Chelela, there will be reports and scientific publications to inform the global scientific community about climate change. But the right time to publish the report maybe six months, one year or more. The ownership will be with NEC,” said Arnico K Panday.

Phurpa Lhamo