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Smart monitoring of air quality

Foto: Finn Bjørklid, NILU

In the near future it will be possible to simplify monitoring of urban air quality through citizens by using sensor technologies and mobile applications. The EU projects CITI-SENSE and Citi-Sense-MOB aim at empowering citizens to monitor the air quality in their immediate environment and implementing measures to influence politicians and decision makers.

Monday morning, 8 a.m.: A man is walking to work with his mobile air monitoring sensor activated. Just as usual. After a while he receives an alert on his smartphone about the high level of particulate matter (PM) right where he is walking. He knows that this is not good for his asthma and calculates an alternative walking route through less polluted areas by using his mobile phone.

Does this sound utopian? Not for Dr Núria Castell from NILU, who is project coordinator for CITI-SENSE.

About the project

CITI-SENSE is the abbreviation for “Development of sensor-based Citizens’ Observatory Community for improving quality of life in cities”.

It is one out of five “Citizens Observatory” projects under the seventh EU framework programme (FP7) within the topic “Developing community- based environmental monitoring and information systems using innovative and novel earth observation applications”.

These projects include community based environmental monitoring, collection and interpretation of data and systems of information delivery.

All five projects aim to develop new technologies and applications for Earth Observation by involving citizens. This shall enable them to influence environmental policies and administrative priorities by help of smartphones, tablets and other portable devices.

NILU is coordinating the CITI-SENSE project, comprising almost 30 partner institutions from Europe, South Korea and Australia. The project provides new opportunities for citizens in nine European cities to monitor their local environments, as well as including indoor air measurements in selected school buildings.

– Even though air quality has been improved tremendously within the last decades, there are still challenges that require action. Since citizens know best what kind of environmental issues they are facing we wish to provide them with both the technologies and the competence to solve these problems, explains Dr Alena Bartonova, Research Director at NILU and scientific coordinator for CITISENSE.

From idea to reality

CITI-SENSE activities are carried out in the following nine European cities: Barcelona, Belgrade, Edinburgh, Haifa, Ljubljana, Oslo, Ostrava, Vienna and Vitoria. Volunteers will be equipped with mobile sensors to monitor air quality in their communities. The sensors deliver their data to a central unit and citizens will receive useful information in return such as maps with real-time data showing environmental pollution.

Data obtained from the citizens’ mobile sensors and phones will be processed together with data from static monitoring stations. They will be made available through both the internet and newly developed mobile applications. Since communication is an important part of the project, people from all over Europe will be able to use these virtual meeting places to exchange information and learn from each other. They will also receive tools and training about how to evaluate and use the obtained information to influence decision makers.

– Key elements in CITI-SENSE are participation and empowerment, continues Bartonova. – Citizens receive technologies and tools for monitoring and electronic communication, but at the same time they will also be trained in the skills to act based on the monitoring results and to communicate with others that are interested, as for example public authorities.


Luftkvalitetssensor, app
An app for a mobile device Foto: Finn Bjørklid, NILU

Citi-Sense-MOB encompasses the installation of air quality sensors on buses and bikes. They shall serve as mobile units for continuously monitoring of the environment in Oslo.
NILU is also scientific coordinator and one of five Norwegian partner organisations that collaborate with the city of Oslo and the companies for public transport Ruter # and Nobina in another project: Citi-Sense-MOB (Mobile Services for Environment and Health Citizens’ Observatory).

This project, carried out in Oslo, involves the installation of air quality sensors on buses and bikes which serve as mobile units for continuous monitoring of the environment in the city.

Just as in CITI-SENSE, the data will be processed and presented in a user friendly and informative layout via web services and applications for a range of technical devices.

– We are going to collect real-time data at places and with a resolution that has not been available until now, says NILU-scientist Dr Núria Castell, scientific coordinator for Citi-Sense-MOB. – In addition NILU will examine new ways to combine the data from crowdsourcing, mobile sensors, traditional monitoring stations and air quality models, and explore how these data can contribute to support a sustainable development in Oslo.

Make cities more enjoyable

Citi-Sense-MOB will deliver mobile services for monitoring road emissions, concentrations of pollutants and health effects caused by air pollution. This will raise awareness amongst citizens about both the air quality in their immediate environment and about the road traffic’s carbon footprint.

– We wish to help both, citizens and public authorities to take decisions that are required to maintain and improve quality of life in our cities, says Castell.

Testing technologies

CITI-SENSE and Citi-Sense-MOB cooperate to test different microsensor technologies and methods to monitor urban air pollution.

– The use of these new technologies has the potential to improve our understanding of the dynamics between air pollution, environmental health and climate changes in urban environments, closes Castell.

Luftkvalitetssensorer montert på sykkel
Citi-Sense-MOB encompasses the installation of air quality sensors on buses and bikes. They shall serve as mobile units for continuously monitoring of the environment in Oslo.
More information about the projects: