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New Hyper-Local Air Pollution Map Can Track Air Quality Per Block

Researchers in Texas have developed the most comprehensive and extensive local map of air pollution using Google Street View, in an effort to track air quality locally.

Engineers at The University of Texas at Austin used specially equipped Google Street View vehicles to create the most detailed air pollution map for an urban area, which can measure air quality block by block, Phys.org reports. This new localized, mobile approach has shown that air quality can vary significantly within a city, and can be used to address air quality monitoring problems worldwide.

The research, led by Joshua Apte of the Cockrell School of Engineering, was made in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Google and Aclima, a provider of environmental sensors in California. Researchers from the University of Washington, University of British Columbia, Utrecht University, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were involved, as well.

The team integrated Aclima’s sensor system into Google Street View cars, and mapped air pollution levels across 78 square miles of Oakland, California for an entire year. The collected results are the largest data sets on air pollution measures in single city streets, mapping air pollution in the city at 100,000 times higher resolution than government air quality monitors.

The study authors believe that the hyper-local mobile measurement system can be implemented in cities across the country, providing detailed air quality information for everyone from local residents to international scientists. The technology could likewise transform the way air pollution is tracked in cities, and give new insights on its impact on urban dwellers.

Apte said,

Air pollution varies very finely in space, and we can’t capture that variation with other existing measurement techniques.

He added, “Using our approach and analysis techniques, we can now visualize air pollution with incredible detail. This kind of information could transform our understanding of the sources and impacts of air pollution.”

EDF and Google have been working together since 2012 in efforts to map and measure health and environmental threats. The study’s technique is meant to be cost-effective and easy to replicate. Apte hopes that this approach can be used to help people make better informed decisions in the future. He said, “This hyper-local information about consistent air quality can be really useful for people, especially those who are vulnerable because of age or health condition.”

The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology

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