Europe′s Worst Pollution Pocket Found Above Western Germany | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.03.2008

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Europe's Worst Pollution Pocket Found Above Western Germany

Home to Germany's steel and coal industries, the area between Amsterdam and Frankfurt is the most polluted in Europe, scientists said. German researchers in Bremen based their findings on new, unique satellite data.

Smoke stacks

Western Germany is a center of industry

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to measure the regional concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a research team from Germany's Bremen University announced on Tuesday, March 18.

The highest concentration of human-generated CO2 can be found in western Germany, said the scientists in a report published in the technical magazine "Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion." The region has traditionally been an industrial center and is considered the heart of Germany's coal and steel sectors.

"We're certain that the raised CO2 concentrations can be attributed to human activities because the patterns in this European urban area are very stabile," said researcher Michael Buchwitz from the Institute for Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen.

Carbon dioxide is one of the biggest culprits behind climate change, experts say. The main source of CO2 emissions is burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas.

Unique measuring instrument

It can be difficult to determine whether atmospheric CO2 was created locally or was blown in from elsewhere, Buchwitz said. Since there are already large amounts of CO2 in the air -- 3,000 billions tons globally -- even a relatively large source of emissions wouldn't raise the regional density of the harmful gas.

Furthermore, CO2 levels are also affected by seasonal changes. In the spring and summer, the blooming plants absorb much of the gas, which is released again in the fall and winter.

The research term used a unique tool to help circumvent these challenges. The measuring device, Sciamachy (Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Cartography), was built by the German Aerospace Center and has orbited the earth onboard a satellite since 2002.

It is currently the only instrument in existence that is able to detect CO2 levels close to the Earth's surface. Sciamachy measures the amount of sunlight reflected from the earth and the atmosphere. Since each type of gas reflects light differently, they can be identified by evaluating the corresponding levels of reflection.

The study was based on data collected from Sciamachy over a three-year period.

Diagram showing CO2 concentrations in Europe

Researchers said the concentration patterns clearly show human influence

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