THE AVERAGE PERSON breathes in and out more than 22,000 times a day, mostly without thinking about it and mostly without knowing whether the air they breathe is clean or not. It was a curiosity about the quality of the air we breathe, and where that air comes from that prompted postgraduate student Jeff Lo Chun-fung to attempt to discover how and why airborne pollutants behave in certain ways when they enter the atmosphere. His research is shedding new light on the complicated processes that affect air quality in the Pearl River Delta area. Mr Lo, who is studying atmospheric environmental science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), said the fact that Hong Kong's air quality has deteriorated significantly over the last two decades is indisputable. However, it is not as simple as you might think to calculate where the pollutants that contaminate the air originate, and how they travel through the atmosphere. 'Air pollution is frequently highly visible in Hong Kong, and its impact regularly discussed in the workplace, at home, in the media and on academic and policy-making levels,' Mr Lo said. The past 10 years has created a greater awareness of air pollution and the distances pollutants travel. This improved the ability to monitor pollutants. 'We are learning a great deal about airborne pollution, but we still have a way to go before we really understand the interaction between weather, localised conditions, and how various airborne pollutants act under different atmospheric circumstances,' Mr Lo said. Key areas of his research were used in a Time magazine article last year on new methods of tracking airborne pollution and understanding the impact of industrial development and urbanisation on the environment. His findings could also help authorities in the delta plan the location of factories to minimise their environmental impact. Mr Lo's research has looked at the topography of where factories are within the delta and the distances and types of pollutants that are driven by various atmospheric conditions. 'To deal with airborne environmental challenges, we must first fully understand where these pollutants come from and how far they have travelled,' he said. Mr Lo's research has also included six months at the renowned National Laboratory for Atmospheric Research in Colorado in the United States. He said in comparison to Hong Kong, the areas of atmospheric science research in the US tend to be wider. 'In Hong Kong we have excellent facilities, training and plenty of people with world-class capabilities, but the areas of research tend to be narrower and are generally concerned with localised air and water pollution.' There is also greater co-operation and research support from private sector industries and government bodies in the US. 'In the US there is a more obvious appreciation of the need for research, which means that research projects are easier to fund,' Mr Lo said.