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Earth Challenge 2020 Launches Active Air Quality Sensor Map Visualization

Anne Bowser bio photo
Earth Challenge 2020 Launches Active Air Quality Sensor Map Visualization

Citizen Science PM 2.5 Air Quality Monitoring: This data visualization shows where different air quality sensor are active as of October 2019.  For April 2020, we will augment this map with an integrated display of air quality data from PM 2.5 sensors and visual data from the Earth Challenge 2020 mobile app.

In recognition of this milestone the Wilson Center, U.S. Department of State, and Earth Day Network are launching Earth Challenge 2020 as the world’s largest coordinated citizen science campaign.  

Earth Challenge 2020 has two goals. First, to help coordinate existing citizen science activities, and second, build capacity for new ones.  To demonstrate the value of coordination, we’re launching the beta website for one of six Earth Challenge 2020 research questions:How does air quality vary locally?

The air we breathe is vital for the health of humans and the planet around us.  In recent decades, there has been a significant increase in particulates, chemicals and harmful gasses in our atmosphere, leading to health issues and millions of premature deaths worldwide.  Air quality is also linked to climate change and biodiversity loss.

One way to measure air quality is through fine particulate matter called PM2.5.  These tiny particles enter the air from many human and natural sources, and can make the air appear hazy at high levels.  Particles travel vast distances, meaning air pollution caused in one place may transcend borders to affect people elsewhere.

Over the last few weeks, Earth Challenge 2020 has worked to map citizen science efforts to monitor air quality through PM2.5 sensors.  We are also comparing this information to reference grade data, to help people around the world understand where air quality is already being monitored-- and where more work is needed.

In the next month, we will launch the Earth Challenge 2020 mobile app’s air quality data collection widget.  Citizen science volunteers will be asked to take pictures of the horizon. We are designing an innovative data validation method that cross references volunteer photos with other consumer grade and reference-grade PM 2.5 devices.  By gathering large quantities of photos coupled with associated air quality data, wa re ultimately helping researchers develop machine learning algorithms that use visual analytics to enhance and make more accurate the data generated from widely available smart devices and low-cost sensors.  With more precision and data, we will further our understanding of the relationship between air quality and our planet.

Take a moment to explore our live data visualization map on the Earth Challenge 2020 website. And if you would like to contribute to the growing number of researchers involved with shapping our research questions, join our research teams.

About the Author

Anne Bowser bio photo

Anne Bowser

Deputy Director of STIP, Director of Innovation and Innovation Specialist

Dr. Anne Bowser is a Deputy Director with the Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) and the Director of Innovation at the Wilson Center. Her work investigates the intersections between science, technology and democracy.

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