Following birch pollen, olive and grass pollen forecasts have now been added to the list of products being offered by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). Roughly one in every four people in Europe have some sensitivity to pollen.
Photo: Eija Vallinheimo
This is the first step in a process that could see downstream applications using the data to provide individuals with symptom predictions tailored to their particular pollen sensitivities. As many will have noticed, hay fever season is getting going again. Roughly one in every four people in Europe have some sensitivity to pollen. It is a wide-spread allergy with symptoms ranging from nasal irritation to itchy eyes. All of these can be severe enough to be incapacitating.
The allergy is a very fast reaction. It can take just minutes from exposure to the symptoms being felt. Although medication is helpful, it can be most effective if it is taken as a preventative measure some days before exposure, rather than as a cure after the symptoms begin.
The pollen season itself depends on weather. Depending on the weather, it can start earlier or later than normal. It can also be interrupted by rain or cold spells. So, it is a very dynamic process, with pollen abundance varying widely from day to day or even hour to hour.
Reliable forecasts are therefore important. Especially since the pollen may not even be produced in the country where people are suffering. Prevailing winds can easily blow the allergen over significant distances and, of course, across national borders.
"Pollen can fly 500-1000 kilometres or even more depending upon winds, meaning that central Germany to southern Finland is not such a long way," says Mikhail Sofiev, Finnish Meteorological Institute, who is the key scientist responsible for developing CAMS pollen products, "It can also be the other way round. We can see pollen transported down from Finland in late spring when the whole of Europe is already out of season."
The pollen data is collected by ground stations in the European allergen network, EAN. This is a privately-run network composed on a voluntary basis of national networks, each run by universities, hospitals, meteorological institutes, or environmental agencies. The data for birch and grass pollen were made available for CAMS modellers to evaluate the accuracy of their models.
Forecasting the concentrations of main allergenic pollens in the air is essential, but it is however only the first step because different people respond differently to different varieties of pollen. To make a real difference, companies and organisations are striving to provide forecasts tailor-made for individuals.
The medical university in Vienna ran a test in which volunteers provided their day-to-day symptoms over several years. These were correlated with the day-to-day amount and type of pollen in the air. If the symptoms are provided for two years, it becomes possible to predict an individual's symptoms using a pollen forecast in the third year, as demonstrated by the scientific team of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
To move this technology towards practical applications, a CAMS downstream project is starting in Latvia and Lithuania. This new trial will take place for a year and a half. It is hoped that several hundred people will take part by inputting their symptoms to an app that sends the information to a secure server for processing and correlation with the CAMS pollen forecasts and possibly considering also concentrations of key atmospheric pollutants. This will build a profile for each user so that the individual can eventually be provided with tailored symptom forecasts.
"We hope we will be able in 18 months to get a sustainable pool of users who will find benefits in using the system," says Sofiev.
Dr. Vincent-Henri Peuch, Head of the ECMWF Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service says, "It is very exciting to see that the modelling tools used for air quality have now been effectively extended for forecasting concentrations of certain pollen species as well. Working together with the EAN and the medical sector, CAMS is now making it possible to try addressing the bigger challenge of delivering timely, accurate and personalised forecasts of hay fever symptoms, which could bring very useful information, and thus relief, to millions of Europeans."
Copernicus is the European Commission's flagship earth observation programme that delivers freely accessible operational data and information services.
Researcher Mikhail Sofiev, tel. +358-50 329 0578, firstname.lastname@example.org
The pollen forecasts can be viewed on the CAMS website:
Select the product (birch, pollen, olive and grass) you want from the drop-down list of parameters.