Engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed the most detailed and extensive local map of air pollution ever produced for an urban area, using specially equipped Google Street View cars to measure air quality on a block-by-block basis. This new hyper-local mobile approach to measuring air quality, which reveals that air pollution can vary dramatically even within a single city block, could address major air quality monitoring gaps worldwide. The research team was led by Cockrell School of Engineering assistant professor Joshua Apte in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Google and Aclima, a San Francisco-based company that delivers environmental intelligence through sensor networks. By integrating Aclima’s sensor system into Google Street View cars, the team mapped air pollution in 78 square miles of Oakland, California, over an entire year, collecting one of the largest data sets of air pollution ever measured of single city streets. This new technique maps urban air pollution at 100,000 times greater spatial resolution than is possible with traditional government air quality monitors. Their approach and findings were published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study included co-authors from the University of Washington, University of British Columbia, Utrecht University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Aclima and EDF. The team believes that their hyper-local mobile measurement system could be implemented in many cities throughout the world, providing detailed air quality information for citizens, families, local governments and scientists. The new technique could address major air quality monitoring gaps worldwide and has the potential to transform the way air pollution is monitored in urban areas as well as shed light on the health effects on city dwellers. Air pollution is a major global risk factor for illness and death, and the air pollution that people are breathing can be, at times, far worse than what official air quality monitors report. Most large urban areas have only one air quality monitor for every 100 to 200 square miles. In comparison, the mobile approach outlined in today’s paper and led by researchers at UT Austin, maps air pollution every 100 feet, or at about four to five locations along a single city block.
From University of Texas, Austin Photo Credit John Vlahakis