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NILU invites citizens to monitor air quality

Foto: Christine F. Solbakken

From the NILU annual report: New technology and new portable sensors makes it possible to monitor air quality in new ways and to a far greater extent than before. It also makes it easier to invite the general public to contribute to the research.

Christine F. Solbakken
Head of Communication

– People are becoming more engaged in air pollution and health issues associated with it, explains research director Alena Bartonova.

– Thus, it is natural to invite them to help monitor the air quality in Norwegian towns, as the technology makes this possible.

Sensors all over Europe

Alena says that NILU scientists have started testing various technologies for personal monitoring. This is happening under the auspices of the joint European research project, CITI-SENSE (Development of sensor-based Citizens’ Observatory Community for improving quality of life in cities). The project takes place in nine cities; Oslo, Barcelona, Belgrade, Edinburgh, Haifa, Ljubljana, Ostrava, Vienna and Vitoria.

The local project teams are testing several methods to communicate with the public about air pollution, with focus on utilizing the latest technological advances in sensor and IT technology. Today, it is finally possible to combine private monitoring data and observations with public information to provide an overview of the air pollution situation in near real time, exactly where you are.

Complements monitoring stations

CITI-SENSE wants to use mobile sensor technology to let you and I monitor the air quality in our neighbourhoods.

– Although the new mobile technologies offer many opportunities and have great innovative potential, there are still several challenges that must be solved, says Bartonova.

– Monitoring equipment with microsensors do not yield stable data, the new technology is still somewhat uncertain in function and use. Therefore, it is difficult to directly compare data from the sensor platforms with data from the public monitoring stations, but NILU and our partners have developed a system that allows the sensor platforms to be used as a complement to the public monitoring network. So even if the information from the mobile sensors is not yet accurate, paired with data from monitoring stations it could provide a more comprehensive picture of the environmental conditions in the city. This applies particularly to areas where there are no monitoring stations.

Testing with volunteers

Scientist Núria Castell explains that the first test round where volunteers will use portable air monitoring sensor platforms in Oslo starts in April 2016.

The information gathered by the participants is made available to them via applications on their mobile phones (apps). It works by sending data from the participants’ mobile sensors and phones to a common system. The system then makes the information available for everyone, along with an updated map of air pollution in the city. Furthermore, participants can 5NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Researchupload their subjective perception of the pollution; how they see it.

Due to precision of the measurements the data are only made available grouped by colour, from deep green for healthy to dark brown for unhealthy, not as concentrations. Regardless, the participants get useful information in return, such as a realtime maps of the current pollution situation.

This aggregated information is made available both online and through newly developed apps. The interface – a “Citizens’ Observatory” – acts as a virtual meeting place. People all over Europe will be able to use such virtual meeting places to exchange information and learn from each other. They will also get tools and training in how to evaluate and use the collected data for their own and others’ benefit.

You can colour the air as well!

If you are not enrolled as a project volunteer, but still want to contribute to the research, you can use CITI-SENSE’s app, “CityAir.” It lets you share your personal perception of air quality where you are with other users, and with the scientists. You can “colour code” the air – from green for “very good” through orange for “poor” to red for “very bad”, and you can enter information about what you think is the source of the bad air quality.

The information gathered and shared can be of particular use for vulnerable groups, wanting to i.e., avoid areas with lots of pollen or road dust. In addition, the feedback provided on the app is important for its further development.

Data collected are displayed along with other air quality information in a web solution common to all the participating cities: http://srv.dunavnet.eu/new/citisense/OutdoorDataPortal/#(until September 2016).

In order to make comparisons and see day by day development, the project has also created an air quality map for each city, based on a combination of statistical techniques based on the available emission and measurement data. Bartonova hopes that this information can help increase people’s understanding of air quality, in addition to getting people interested enough to want to take part in the various processes needed to reduce air pollution in Europe enough that it is no longer harmful to our health.

Open for all

CITI-SENSE and our tools are open to everyone, not just those participating in the project. The team also invites other developers to share their tools via CITI-SENSE Citizens’ Observatories platform: http://co.citi-sense.eu/.

Nuria Castell viser luftmålesensor og app
The project offers participants different types of mobile technology, such as the app CityAir (left) and portable air monitoring sensors such as the one scientist Núria Castell demonstrates (right). Photo: NILU

Read the NILU annual report 2015