Using specially equipped Google Street View cars to measure air quality on a block-by-block basis, researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have developed a detailed and extensive local map of air pollution for an urban area.
Most large urban areas tend to have only one air quality monitor for every 100 to 200 square miles. In comparison, the new mobile approach maps air pollution every 100 feet, or at about four to five locations along a single city block.
"Air pollution varies very finely in space, and we can't capture that variation with other existing measurement techniques," said lead researcher Joshua Apte of The University of Texas at Austin in the US.
"Using our approach and analysis techniques, we can now visualise air pollution with incredible detail. This kind of information could transform our understanding of the sources and impacts of air pollution," Apte added.
The research was conducted in partnership with the US-based non-profit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Google and Aclima, a California-based provider of environmental sensors.
By integrating Aclima's sensor system into Google Street View cars, the team mapped air pollution in 78 square miles of Oakland, California, over an entire year, collecting one of the largest data sets of air pollution ever measured of single city streets.
This new technique maps urban air pollution at 100,000 times greater spatial resolution than is possible with traditional government air quality monitors, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The team believes that their hyper-local mobile measurement system could be implemented in many cities throughout the world, providing detailed air quality information for citizens, families, local governments and scientists.
The new technique could address major air quality monitoring gaps worldwide and has the potential to transform the way air pollution is monitored in urban areas as well as shed light on the health effects on city dwellers.
"You could use this information when you're picking a school for your kids. Is there a school with a playground that might have better air quality because your kid has asthma," Apte said.
"This hyper-local information about consistent air quality can be really useful for people, especially those who are vulnerable because of age or health condition," Apte noted.