New Tools to Tackle the Challenges of Pollen and Fungal Spores

Apart from causing discomfort and respiratory issues for individuals, biological aerosols emitted from both terrestrial and marine ecosystems significantly affect agriculture and forestry.

New Tools to Tackle the Challenges of Pollen and Fungal Spores

Image Credit: Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock.com

Finnish research initiatives are working to transform bioaerosol observations, enhance forecasting tools, and deliver transformative insights to communities across Europe and on a global scale.

Over 80 million Europeans suffer from allergies to pollen and fungal spores, resulting in estimated annual health costs ranging from €50 to €150 billion. Additionally, substantial economic losses occur due to crop damage, tree die-offs, and the environmental impacts of fungicide use.

To support efforts for mitigation and adaptation, it is imperative to monitor these particles and provide accessible, up-to-date information to end-users in various critical sectors.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute is taking the lead in coordinating the SYLVA project, which is funded by the EU through the Horizon Europe program and is supported by the Swiss SERI governmental agency.

SYLVA's primary objective is to advance state-of-the-art technologies and infrastructure for monitoring biological aerosols throughout Europe. In addition, the Academy of Finland is involved in research projects, including SPORELIFE (a consortium comprising FMI, SYKE, and the University of Turku) and the Academy Fellow project ClimRust, which both concentrate on addressing the challenges presented by fungal spores.

These projects will deliver new, tailored information to end-users, enhancing our understanding of environmental and climate-related changes in biological aerosols."

Mikhail Sofiev, Finnish Meteorological Institute

Radical Improvement to Bioaerosol Monitoring

The technology employed for monitoring pollen traces its origins back to the 1950s, and Europe has played a prominent role in global bioaerosol research. However, the instrumentation developed seven decades ago no longer meets current demand.

Instrumentation suffers from significant limitations, including an overall uncertainty exceeding 30%, inadequate collection stability, and the time-consuming manual microscopic analysis of samples, which causes delays of three to nine days in obtaining the data.

SYLVA endeavors to bring about a transformative enhancement by addressing deficiencies in the temporal resolution, data timeliness, geographical coverage, and accessibility of information pertaining to bioaerosols. This project will concentrate on creating open-source monitoring technologies and seamlessly incorporating them into the pre-existing European observation systems.

The SPORELIFE and ClimRust projects are dedicated to addressing the most demanding aspects of monitoring and modeling fungal spores, encompassing their environmental distribution, biodiversity, and the current and anticipated alterations in these factors.

Addressing Climate Impact and Agricultural Benefits

Bioaerosols are notably influenced by climate change, and, conversely, they can also impact climate dynamics by participating in cloud microphysics. These factors contribute to some of the most substantial uncertainties in comprehending the forces driving climate change.

Bioaerosols play a vital role in agriculture and forestry by facilitating predictions related to fruit production and enabling more precise applications of fungicides, ultimately reducing soil pollution. Additionally, precise pollen monitoring can help monitor climate-induced habitat shifts and the invasion of new species.

These projects commenced in 2023, and the initial results addressing these challenges are anticipated to be available next spring.

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