National Physical Laboratory

NPL awarded central role in WMO atmospheric monitoring programme

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has been appointed the Central Calibration Laboratory for nitrogen monoxide by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as part of a programme to better understand changes to the Earth's atmosphere and their impact on human health and the environment.


The role will see NPL supporting the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) programme, as the sole provider of reference standards for nitrogen monoxide to monitoring stations across the world. The GAW monitoring network, made up of over 500 stations spanning 80 countries, provides long-term observations of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, to improve our understanding of the increasing influence of human activity on the Earth's atmosphere.

Nitrogen monoxide, or NO, is released into the atmosphere when fuels are burned - for example, petrol or diesel in a car engine, or natural gas in a domestic boiler or power station. Accurate monitoring of NO levels is critical to effective air quality research and policy-making, as NO reacts with oxygen in the air to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a major pollutant known to detrimentally affect both human health and the environment.

As a Central Calibration Laboratory, NPL will play a key role in the GAW quality assurance system. All NO measurements made across the GAW monitoring network will be traceable to NPL's primary standard. This ensures high-quality, comparable data, which can be used to assess the composition of the atmosphere and the impact of human activity on a global scale.

GAW's observations contribute to major climate monitoring programmes such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments and Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). In the past, key pieces of legislation – regarding, for example, the damage CFCs cause to the Earth's protective ozone layer, and the impact of rising greenhouse gas concentrations on global warming – have been underpinned by information derived from WMO's atmospheric composition monitoring programme.

NPL is one of only two National Measurement Institutes in the world to be awarded Central Calibration Laboratory status by WMO. This major achievement recognises the Chemical Metrology Group's significant contribution to the field of nitrogen oxide measurements.

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

For more information, contact Paul Brewer

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Last Updated: 31 May 2016
Created: 31 May 2016


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