A dirigible first spotted in the skies above Paris on July 17th is measuring air quality at altitudes never before recorded in the French capital.  Launched in March 2014, this “AirParif” project is part of the "Mobility and Quality of Life in Urban Areas" study being conducted by the Sorbonne, Paris University VI, otherwise known as the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie (“UPMC”).  Funding for the project is provided by Peugeot Citroën and Renault.  

Between ground pollution, measured by land sensors, and global satellite monitoring sensors at elevations 3,000 to 4,000 km in altitude, there is a column of air whose composition currently remains a mystery.  The airship, made available by AirShipVision, is flying 300 meters above Paris measuring ozone, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (ozone precursors) and particles in the atmosphere. Pollution peaks this year in Paris raised many questions about the origin of the particles, e.g., traffic, agriculture, industry, forest fires, neighboring countries, etc.  The measurements are being collected in collaboration with another project, Eurosentinelle, which aims to better understand the origin of the particulate matter and identify sources of urban air pollution.  

AirParif is a non-profit organization accredited by the French Ministry of Environment to continuously assess air quality in Île-de-France.  According to the 30 December 1996 law on Air, its missions are to monitor air quality, forecast pollution episodes, assess the impact of emission reduction measures, and to inform the public of critical air degradation episodes.  AirParif also contributes data to the assessment of health risks and environmental impacts.  http://www.airparif.asso.fr/en/

According to scientists at UPMC, the purpose of the AirParif project is to connect the link between the two currently existing levels of measurement by providing a finer vertical sampling model.  The next step will be to expand the fleet to measure other molecules to further understanding the air chemistry in France.  Future plans include flying over less populous areas and topography (farmlands, livestock herds, forests, smaller urban and rural areas) to gain access to a multitude of emissions data.  

Environnement Magazine, July 17th, 2014.