Air Quality

Air Quality 

UNSW has a range of permanent and portable air quality monitoring and sampling instruments. This equipment is used to monitor air quality and investigate levels and sources of air pollution in Australia and overseas. 

Real time monitoring 

UNSW has a network of real-time airborne particle monitors. These instruments measure PM1.0, PM2.5 and PM10 at two-minute intervals alongside meteorological parameters of wind direction, wind strength, temperature, humidity and rainfall. This data is available via telemetry in real time and immediately inter-comparable between sites thanks to an ongoing calibration and maintenance regime. The instruments are suitable for short-term or permanent outdoor deployment and suitable for remote locations being powered by solar.


UNSW collects samples of particulates and gases to investigate air quality and determine concentrations of particular compounds. Particle samples are collected through a range of long-term or temporary deployed field sampling equipment. The equipment comprises passive deposition samplers to investigate wet, dry and total particle deposition as well as active sampling using high volume sampling. Gas samples are collected using wind tunnel sampling.

Laboratory analysis

A wide range of analyses are conducted on collected particulate and gaseous contaminants in our laboratories. Our suite of instrumentation is used to determine particle type, source areas, and potential human and environmental heath risk. 

Collected samples are filtered onto filter paper and undergo a 3-week digestion process to extract microplastics. They are then looked at under the microscope to determine size and counts. Samples are then analysed for plastic polymer type using Raman spectroscopy laser operated at 785 nm. The data is then analysed to compare microplastic type and amount at urban, peri urban, and rural sites, whilst using back trajectory data to determine the possible sources of the microplastics.

Pasifika Air Quality and Environmental Health 

Current collaborative research in the Pacific is gathering data to determine air pollution levels in urban, peri-urban and rural locations in Pacific low- and middle-income countries. Empirical evidence collected by ongoing field monitoring and sampling since 2019 is being used to identify air pollution sources, inform the human health impacts of air pollution, identify environmental health impacts, and hasten energy transition to clean renewable sources. Particular laboratory attention is on PM2.5 and airborne microplastics.  The collaborative research is being undertaken with: 

  • Fiji: Fiji National University School of Public Health. And Primary Care, University of the South Pacific – Laucala Campus, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment 

  • The Solomon Islands: Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of the Environment. 

  • Tonga: Ministry of Health, Department of Geology, University of South Pacific – Tonga Campus, New Zealand’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research 

  • Vanuatu: Ministry of Climate Change Adaption, Meteorology, Geo-hazards, Environment and Energy. 

  • Regional: University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, University of Oxford, Institute of Environmental Science and Research (New Zealand). 

Field monitoring and sampling efforts combine 2-minute resolution air monitoring with three weekly sampling regimes to inform long-term air quality trends as well as identifying both local and long-range sources of airborne particles. This includes dedicated sampling and laboratory analyses to collect and identify airborne microplastic particles in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Sydney. 

This research aims to utilise empirical air pollution data in order to improve the health outcomes of Pacific communities, led by Pasifika priorities. The data will support government partnerships with multilateral agencies and universities that will improve air quality through investment in renewable energy. Women and children from lower-income households are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of poor air quality, and a gendered and demographical approach will be taken to extend this research to identify those most at risk.