An engineering research team from The University of Texas at Austin has developed what it believes is the most comprehensive air pollution map ever, visualizing block-by-block air quality analysis for 78 square miles of Oakland, Calif. The team published its methods and findings from more than a year of research in the Environmental Science and Technology journal earlier this month.
The researchers used Google Street View cars equipped with an Aclima sensor system to repeatedly measure nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and black carbon pollutants in the air at street level. This method allowed for mapping at 30-meter scales—100,000 times the spatial resolution of traditional government monitors, according to the University—revealing that air pollution can vary dramatically within just one city block.
The results were compiled into publically available interactive maps accessible through nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Dark red data points indicate areas of heavily concentrated pollution, while light yellow points signify cleaner air. Pollution hotspots included congested intersections, freeways, industrial plants, warehouses, and the Port of Oakland.
This project supports a partnership between Google Earth and EDF, who have worked together since 2012 to identify sources of health risks and environmental harm so communities and lawmakers can take action to improve safety.
According to the journal article, most urban areas have only one official air quality monitor for every 100-200 square miles and often report far lower levels of pollution than actually exist. The research team believes their method should be used in more cities to provide accurate, up-to-date air quality information for local residents whose health and wellness may be affected by pollution.
Image by Aclima