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Auckland city centre gets air quality and noise check-up

Media release

The University of Auckland
National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd
AUT University
Auckland Council

20 August 2013

Auckland city centre gets air quality and noise check-up

A study to investigate air quality and noise in the Queen St valley begins next week.  

Scientists from The University of Auckland, NIWA, and AUT University, along with 15 students, will be hitting city centre streets to determine how much car and bus emissions contribute to the level of air pollutants in the Queen St valley and to assess the urban soundscape.

Queen Street and the immediately adjacent Customs, Wellesley, Elliot and Lorne Streets are included in the study. These streets have been chosen because they present a range of traffic conditions and pedestrian environments.

“Emissions from road traffic are an important source of air pollution in Auckland,” says Dr Jenny Salmond, an expert in air quality from The University of Auckland’s School of Environment. “This study will look at how traffic affects air quality in the downtown area. We will be trying to identify the impacts of congestion, and of different types of vehicles, on levels of air pollution.”

“We hope to be able to build a picture of how people living, working, shopping or travelling in the CBD are exposed to pollutants and what the differences are in that exposure,” says Dr Guy Coulson, NIWA’s Group Manager of Urban Air Quality and Health. “This will allow decision makers to better manage traffic to deliver clean air.”

A variety of pollutants associated with traffic will be measured. For instance ultrafine particles will be measured at a permanent Auckland Council monitoring site on Queen Street, and by a team of University of Auckland postgraduate students and other study participants carrying portable instruments while walking around the CBD. A network of monitors for nitrogen dioxide will also be established.

Alongside the air quality work, Dr Kim Dirks from the University’s School of Population Health is leading an analysis of the city soundscape and how noise affects people’s experience of the city.

“There are many different sources of sounds in urban environments; the sounds made by vehicles are an integral part of this urban soundscape,” she says. “In addition to noise measurements, we will be using a short questionnaire to collect information about people’s perceptions of noise in the Queen Street valley.”

Dr Daniel Shepherd, a senior lecturer in Psychology at AUT University who is contributing to the soundscape analysis, says: “The acoustic environment is a contributing factor not only to the health and wellbeing of its residents, but also an area’s uniqueness and vitality.”

Core funding for the project came from the Auckland Council-convened CBD Advisory Board. Chair Connal Townsend says that with the streets becoming more attractive, more people working and living in the city centre, and pedestrian counts climbing, it made sense to measure air quality at street level. “City success, air quality and public health are all connected, and we are interested in knowing what’s happening at street level,” he says.

Auckland Council has supported the study by co-ordinating the upgrade of an air quality monitoring station on Queen St and by providing additional research equipment.

The data collection phase will begin on Monday 19 August and will last approximately two weeks, with preliminary findings available in November.


Auckland Council, NIWA, The University of Auckland and AUT University work in partnership on various projects to study air quality in the city and across the region. This study – called Personal Exposure to Noise and Air Pollution (PENAP) – will complement past and ongoing research, will add to the air quality and noise pollution knowledgebase for New Zealand urban environments, and will inform future decisions on city centre projects.

Study objectives

• Characterise levels of traffic-related air pollutants in the Queen Street valley
• Determine the contribution of bus and car emissions to levels of traffic-related air pollutants in the Queen Street valley
• Characterise the nature of the noise in the Queen Street Valley (sound levels, frequency content, intermittency) at different locations within the valley
• Assess people’s perceptions of the urban soundscape and its contributors
• Assess people’s perceptions of how the soundscape can be improved to make Queen Street a more vibrant street

Study scope

The spatial scope of this project includes Queen Street and its immediately adjacent streets. This may be expanded if scientifically justified, resources permitting. Attached is a map of the areas to be included.

The intensive observational period will be restricted to hours of peak traffic on weekdays from 19 August.

Participants will walk the routes repeatedly during these times carrying a hand-held particle counter, a carbon monoxide monitor, a lapel noise dosimeter, a hand-held sound level meter, and a GPS. They should mix with the regular pedestrian traffic to give a picture of typical exposure while walking in central Auckland.

Atmospheric pollutants measured will include particulate matter (number and mass concentrations), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide.

The noise soundscape will be assessed via a short questionnaire, and interviews to evaluate in what ways the urban soundscape could be improved. Noise recordings (levels and frequency content) will also be made at various locations and times of day within the study area.

Science team

• Ian Longley (NIWA): Co-Principal Investigator (Air): Study design (air), reference site measurements, reporting
• Jennifer Salmond (The University of Auckland):  Co-Principal Investigator (Air): Study design (air), passive and mobile measurements, student supervision, academic publication
• Kim Dirks (The University of Auckland):  Co-Principal Investigator (Air/Noise): Study design (air/noise), mobile measurements, student and research assistant supervision, academic publication
• David Welch (The University of Auckland):  Co-Principal Investigator (Noise): Study design (noise), research assistant supervision, academic publication
• Daniel Shepherd (AUT): Co-Principal Investigator (Noise): Study design (noise), research assistant supervision, academic publication
• Stuart Grange (The University of Auckland):  Project Manager: Fieldwork co-ordination, data quality & management

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