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How Google Street View is mapping Oakland’s air pollution

Ah, the power of data

Basil D Soufi / Wikipedia

Air pollution is the world’s single biggest health risk, so it should be no surprise that cities want to know where and why air quality is at its worst. The problem? Air monitoring devices in urban urban areas are few and far between—generally numbering just 1-4 sites for every million people. That’s like trying to take a city’s portrait with a four-pixel camera. There’s no actionably detail!

Enter Google Earth Outreach, an initiative that teams up with nonprofits to leverage the power of Google to do good for the planet. Last year, the group paired up with the Environmental Defense Fund to detect methane gas leaks in Pittsburgh using Google Street View cars.

They put a similar idea to work in Oakland, California, using Street View vehicles to detect air pollution levels. San Francisco sensor company Aclima rigged up two cars to collect geo-located data on the city’s levels of black carbon, nitrogen oxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Aclima via

The results are fascinating—bus routes tended to be more polluted, as were areas near Interstate 880, and neighborhoods including businesses like car factories and metal recycling plants.

“Maybe the most striking thing is how much air pollution can vary even within a city block,” said Joshua Apte, an assistant engineering professor at the University of Texas who authored paper on the data. “One end of the block could be five, eight times more polluted than the other end of the block.”

Via: Fast Company