Filling The Air Quality Data Gap

Poor air quality (AQ) is responsible for 1 out of 8 deaths in the world, more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

As a paper published in Nature a couple months ago projects, this is not a problem going away any time soon.

Yet, the most polluted places are often greatly under-studied and/or have little AQ data publicly available compared to many less polluted places.

A lack of AQ data around the world creates several gaps in research, policy and public engagement:

  1. Key public health questions remain, such as: What is the precise relationship between mortality and AQ in severely polluted places, where billions live? Scientists understand this relationship to a much higher degree in less polluted places like the EU and US, but in places where this fundamental research is most needed, we don’t.

2. Currently, satellite measurements combined with ground-measurements of certain types of air pollutants at particular locations are used to estimate levels of AQ, even in places where there is not monitoring — which is the especially cool advantage of satellite estimates. However, the ‘library’ of ground-measurements scientists use to help ground truth the satellite data is usually based on ground monitor data that is not real-time, nor even synchronously captured with the other stations. Such retrievals may potentially benefit from increased measurements reported in a standard form and at times that are synchronous with the satellite measurement itself and each other. One issue with the emerging field of low-cost AQ sensors is finding ways to test them in the field and compare them to more standard, real-time measurements.

3. Many cities across the world are facing similar — though not identical — pollution challenges, and policy and public awareness benefit from an open community sharing, assessing and comparing data at the local level and in comparison with other places. An “open community” consists of app developers making apps to share out data in ways that are understandable to the general public, journalists writing data-driven articles on air quality, and many others.

And actually, there are thousands of stations throughout the world publicly publishing AQ data by local air quality agencies doing the hard work of measuring and reporting these data.

Air quality data is shared by thousands of groups in many formats across the world.

However, it can be difficult to access to this information because often the data resides on websites showing only current values, is programmatically inaccessible or is in inconsistent data formats. We strongly believe a system openly/freely sharing these data in a standardized format would make them transformational to scientific, media, and policy communities at both local and global levels, filling the ‘AQ data gap.’

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