Press release 13.10.2023

New bioaerosol monitoring and modeling technologies tackle health and agriculture challenges

Besides making people sneeze and suffer, biological aerosols released from terrestrial and marine ecosystems have an important impact on agriculture and forestry. Finnish research projects aim to revolutionize the bioaerosol observations, advance the forecasting tools, and provide game-changing information to society across Europe and at the global scale.
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More than 80 million Europeans are allergic to pollen and fungal spores, and associated health costs are estimated to range between €50-150 billion per year. Likewise, billions of euros are lost because of crop destruction, tree diebacks, not to mention the environmental costs associated with fungicide use. To facilitate mitigation and adaptation actions, there is a critical need to monitor these particles and generate freely available and timely information to end-users across a range of key sectors.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute is coordinating SYLVA, an EU project funded under the Horizon Europe program, with support from the Swiss SERI governmental agency. SYLVA aims to develop cutting-edge biological aerosols monitoring technologies and infrastructure across Europe. Additionally, Academy of Finland research project SPORELIFE (consortium of FMI, SYKE and University of Turku) and Academy Fellow project ClimRust, focus on the challenges posed by fungal spores.

Mikhail Sofiev at the Finnish Meteorological Institute notes, "These projects will deliver new, tailored information to end-users, enhancing our understanding of environmental and climate-related changes in biological aerosols."

Radical improvement to bioaerosol monitoring

Technology used to monitor pollen dates to the 1950s, and Europe has led worldwide research in the field of bioaerosols. But the instrument developed 70 years ago does not satisfy modern requirements, with an overall uncertainty of over 30%, poor collection stability, and the lengthy manual microscopic analysis of samples delaying the data by 3-9 days.

SYLVA aims to achieve a radical improvement, by filling gaps in temporal resolution, timeliness, coverage, and availability of information about bioaerosols. The project will develop open-source monitoring technologies and integrate them with existing European observing systems.

SPORELIFE and ClimRust will tackle the most-challenging aspects of monitoring and modelling of fungal spores, their distribution in the environment, biodiversity, on-going and forthcoming changes.

Addressing climate impact and agricultural benefits

Bioaerosols are significantly impacted by climate change, but some of them also affect climate through their role in cloud microphysics. These constitute one of the largest uncertainties in our understanding of climate change drivers.

Bioaerosols also provide critical insights into agriculture and forestry, aiding in predicting fruit production and reducing soil pollution by fungicides via more precise applications. Accurate pollen monitoring can also track climate-induced habitat shifts and invasion of new species.

The projects started in 2023, the first results addressing these challenges are expected next spring.

Further information:

Mikhail Sofiev Research Professor, Dr. Finnish Meteorological Institute tel. +358 503 290 578

Veera Norros Dr., Senior Research Scientist Finnish Environment Institute tel. +358 295 251 459

Marje Prank Dr., Researcher Finnish Meteorological Insitute tel. +358 504 687 048

SYLVA project website

Finnish Meteorological Insitute: Atmospheric bioaerosols modelling and monitoring