Afternoons with SPMS, the School-level seminar series of the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS), in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy Ghana, organized a seminar on the topic ‘Closing the Air Pollution Data Gap in Ghana: Leveraging Surface Monitoring, Modelling and Satellite Observations’ on Thursday August 10, 2023. The seminar was delivered by Dr. Dan Westervelt, a Lamont Associate Research Professor at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Palisades, New York, and an air pollution advisor to the U.S. State Department.

Group photograph of participants of the seminar

In his opening remarks Prof. Sandow Mark Yidana, the Dean of SPMS and Chairman of the program, welcomed attendees and stated that he was hopeful the presentation would provide insights into some critical issues of air pollution in Ghana.

Prof. S.M. Yidana, Dean of SPMS giving his opening remarks

Delivering the presentation. Dr. Dan Westervelt outlined the air pollution data gap in Ghana and the significance of accurate air quality data in shaping effective health and regulatory policies. He observed that there is a lack of comprehensive air quality data in various regions of the world, particularly Asia and Africa. Dr. Westervelt indicated that traditional air quality monitoring methods, such as the Beta Attenuation Monitor, in mitigating air pollution require high expertise and are expensive to implement and thus, limits their widespread use, even in economically developed countries. He stated that portable devices like the low-cost air pollution monitors have the potential to revolutionize regulatory action for air quality improvement, using statistical models to correct for biases. According to Dr. Westervelt, in an air pollution survey conducted in parts of Ghana, it was observed that there was evidence of poor air quality especially during the harmattan season, which may be due to dusty air coming from the Sahara, and the consistent burning of charcoal and fossils. He admonished that governmental policies should be developed to regulate and create awareness of the severe consequences of air pollution to the health of individuals.

Dr. Dan Westervelt giving the presentation

There was Q&A session after the presentation. Participants asked questions regarding various aspects of air quality monitoring and its complexities, and whether the height of sampling could be correlated with obtained results, potentially influencing the interpretation of data. Some participants also wanted to know how the harmattan, a dry and dusty West African trade wind, impact particulate measurements, among others.

A participant asking a question

The representative of the Provost of College and Applied Sciences (CBAS), Prof. Elvis Tiburu, commended the speaker for delivering an excellent presentation on the significance and potential impact of air quality management.

Prof. Elvis Tiburu, Representative of the Provost-CBAS

The Chairman in his closing remarks expressed his appreciation to the speaker for an insightful presentation.  He emphasized the urgency of addressing air pollution, particularly from sources like old vehicles, and suggested a collaboration with the Ghana Health Service to explore connections between air pollution and related health conditions. He assured the US Embassy of a continued collaboration to provide a platform for interdisciplinary research and dialogue among academia, policy makers, and researchers, with emphasis on the importance of data-driven decision-making in tackling air pollution challenges in Ghana.

The seminar was held both physically at the conference room of the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), and virtually on Microsoft Teams. About sixty (60) participants attended in-person, while over twenty (20) participants joined virtually. The seminar was moderated by Dr. Ralph Twum, a Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and the SPMS Seminar Series Coordinator.