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Achieving Ambient Air Quality Monitoring with Citizen Science




Air pollution is a serious problem. It kills over seven million people each year. It also causes serious problems for wildlife, so we need to do more to keep it in check.

Sadly, we are not doing nearly enough to help fight air pollution. The problem has been worsening for years and will continue to do so if we don’t take immediate action. People may be more concerned about stopping air pollution if they learn all the ways it affects our health, but we need the right measures to help. One of the most important things we should do is focus on air quality monitoring strategies based on citizen science.

Air Quality Monitoring with Citizen Science Can Help Fight Air Pollution

In the midst of urban sprawl and industrialisation, the quality of the air we breathe is a growing concern. From bustling city centres to quiet suburban neighbourhoods, ambient air quality monitoring plays a crucial role in safeguarding public health and the environment. However, traditional monitoring networks often struggle to capture localised pollution hotspots and engage communities directly in the process. This is where citizen science steps in, offering a grassroots approach to environmental monitoring that empowers individuals to take action and make a difference in their own communities.

Understanding Ambient Air Quality Monitoring

Ambient air quality monitoring involves the continuous measurement and analysis of air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide in the outdoor environment. These pollutants, emitted from various sources, including vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and combustion processes, can have adverse effects on human health, ecosystems, and climate. By monitoring air quality levels, policymakers, scientists, and public health officials can identify pollution trends, assess the effectiveness of regulatory measures, and implement targeted interventions to improve air quality. IoT devices can even help with air quality monitoring.

The Rise of Citizen Science

Citizen science refers to the involvement of volunteers, often non-professionals or community members, in scientific research projects and data collection efforts. In the realm of ambient air quality monitoring, citizen science initiatives are empowering individuals and communities to become actively involved in monitoring and addressing local air pollution issues. By leveraging low-cost sensors, mobile applications, and community-driven monitoring networks, citizen scientists are filling gaps in traditional monitoring networks and providing valuable data for decision-making and advocacy.

Engaging Communities in Air Quality Monitoring

One of the critical strengths of citizen science is its ability to engage communities directly in the monitoring process. By providing individuals with the tools and knowledge to monitor air quality in their own neighbourhoods, citizen science projects foster a sense of ownership and empowerment among participants. Community members can collect data on air quality levels near schools, parks, and residential areas, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of local pollution sources and exposure risks.

Benefits of Citizen Science in Ambient Air Quality Monitoring

Citizen science offers numerous benefits for ambient air quality monitoring:

1.    Increased Spatial Coverage:

Traditional monitoring networks often have limited spatial coverage, leaving many areas underserved. Citizen science projects can fill this gap by deploying sensors in neighbourhoods, parks, and other community spaces, providing a complete picture of air quality at the local level.

2.    Enhanced Data Resolution:

By deploying a network of low-cost sensors, citizen science projects can capture fine-scale variations in air quality that may be missed by traditional monitoring stations. This high-resolution data can help identify pollution hotspots and inform targeted mitigation efforts.

3.    Community Engagement:

Citizen science projects promote community engagement and environmental literacy by involving residents in the monitoring process. Participants gain firsthand experience in collecting and analysing air quality data, fostering a deeper understanding of environmental issues and encouraging advocacy for cleaner air.

4.    Rapid Response:

Citizen science networks have the flexibility to respond quickly to emerging environmental concerns, such as wildfires or industrial accidents, by deploying sensors to affected areas and monitoring air quality in real time. This rapid response capability can help protect public health and inform emergency response efforts.

5.    Support for Policy and Advocacy:

The data collected through citizen science projects can serve as a powerful tool for advocacy and policymaking. By providing evidence of local air pollution levels and their impacts on communities, citizen scientists can advocate for stronger environmental regulations, cleaner transportation options, and other measures to improve air quality.

Case Studies in Citizen Science

Several successful citizen science projects have demonstrated the potential of community-driven monitoring initiatives to make a meaningful impact on ambient air quality:

1.    “Air Quality Egg” (AQE):

The Air Quality Egg project is a global network of citizen scientists who use low-cost sensors to monitor air quality in their communities. Participants upload their data to an online platform, allowing for real-time visualisation and analysis of air quality trends.

2.    “Community Air Sensor Network” (CAIRSENSE):

CAIRSENSE is a collaborative research project that engages residents in air quality monitoring using portable sensors. The project aims to improve understanding of air pollution exposure in urban environments and inform public health interventions.

3.    “Citizen Science Air Quality Monitoring Program” (CSAMP):

CSAMP is a community-based air quality monitoring program in California that empowers residents to monitor air pollution in their neighbourhoods. The program provides training, equipment, and support for citizen scientists to collect and analyse air quality data.

Conclusion: Empowering Communities for Cleaner Air

As we strive for cleaner, healthier air for all, citizen science offers a powerful approach to engage communities in ambient air quality monitoring. By empowering individuals to become active participants in the monitoring process, citizen science projects not only enhance the spatial coverage and resolution of air quality data but also foster community engagement, environmental stewardship, and advocacy for cleaner air. As we look to the future, the collaboration between scientists, policymakers, and citizen scientists holds great promise for addressing the complex challenges of air pollution and ensuring a sustainable environment for generations to come.

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