OBSERVER: How Copernicus supports you with seasonal allergies

OBSERVER: How Copernicus supports you with seasonal allergies

OBSERVER: How Copernicus supports you with seasonal allergies

Thu, 21/07/2022 – 08:00

Map of Europe showing the birch pollen for late March 2022. CAMS provides forecasts for both pollen and air quality that are updated daily in the Atmosphere Data Store. This data can be used by health professionals and allergy sufferers to make informed decisions regarding their health. Image credit: ECMWF – Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service

Have you ever wondered how Copernicus helps you in your everyday life? Copernicus services acquire and analyse satellite and in situ data and transform it into user diverse and user-friendly applications. In particular, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) supports applications that yield tangible effects on health. A prime example of this work is the monitoring and forecasting of allergens such as birch, olive, grass, ragweed and alder pollen—all of which are major causes of allergic rhinitis or hay fever.

Especially abundant in Northern and Central Europe, allergy to birch pollen affects many people. CAMS has studied and reported high concentrations of pollen in different parts of Europe, and has flagged an early rise of concentrations in March 2022. The early seasonal release has been linked to the hot and dry conditions across Europe, resulting in particularly high concentrations of birch pollen in France, Benelux, Northern Italy, Switzerland and Southern Germany. Symptoms of allergy are understood to have been exacerbated by other irritants present in the European atmosphere, such as elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide as well as particulate matter from Saharan dust episodes.

Birch Tree Pollen

While pollen data observations are not available in real-time, they do enable the evaluation of the accuracy of CAMS models. Moreover, CAMS provides four-day forecasts on the pollen concentration levels for the five most common types of allergens. Data used by CAMS is collected by over 600 pollen monitoring ground stations spread across Europe, known as the European Aeroallergen Network. The network is run on a voluntary basis and is comprised of primarily national actors (hospitals, universities, meteorological institutes, and environmental agencies). The service for pollen distribution provided by CAMS is thus an excellent example of the complementarity between in situ and satellite data, with the former primarily used to calibrate and validate data from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites.

Reliable forecasts play an important role in helping those affected by pollen allergies, estimated to affect between 10-30% of the global population. The models allow a more efficient management of hay fever symptoms, for instance enabling preventative medication to pre-emptively mitigate adverse effects of pollen, as opposed to treating symptoms after they appear.

Several innovative applications using CAMS’ pollen service have been developed, most prominently by European universities. One such example is PASYFO, a forecasting tool for allergic symptoms developed by the University of Šiauliai (Lithuania) in partnership with the Finnish Meteorological Institute, among others. The objective of PASYFO is to provide personalised information to users in Lithuania and Latvia by leveraging a combination of CAMS pollen forecasts, research form the Medical University of Vienna and information gathered on users’ daily symptoms. PASYFO provides individualised forecasts to users, discriminating between different potential reactions of individuals to the same (forecasted) levels of pollens and allergens.

In addition to pollen forecasts, CAMS provides continuous monitoring of the global atmosphere composition as well as the European regional air quality. The latter variable is affected by a multitude of factors, including Saharan dust, pollution, smoke from wildfires and others. This data, coupled with pollen forecasts, is accessible through the CAMS Atmosphere Data Store, and provides critical information for both health professionals and individuals affected by allergens in order to make informed decisions on health issues.

Air quality analysis by CAMS in March 2022. Air quality analyses are combined with forecasts on pollen levels to provide critical information to health professionals and individuals. Image Credit: ECMWF – Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service

Indeed, while the origins of high pollen levels and poor air quality stem from different phenomena, the combination of both effects can prove to be dangerous to allergy sufferers. As a result, the use of Copernicus’ Earth Observation data and information to monitor these elements, can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of the population.

Thu, 21/07/2022 – 12:00

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