Air Quality InQuiry (AQIQ): Community-led Greenhouse Gas Measurements by Community Sense
AQIQ bridges the gap between citizens and climate scientists by providing communities with low-cost greenhouse gas monitoring tools.
In today’s world, understanding the impacts of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on climate change at a community level is critical. It is a difficult task for climate scientists to effectively communicate the meaning of climate data to citizens. Our project will bridge this gap between citizens and climate scientists by providing communities with access to low-cost greenhouse gas monitoring tools. Traditionally, studying the source and impacts of pollutants required expensive and complex air quality monitoring devices. Recently however, the Hannigan research group at the University of Colorado has been developing low cost air quality monitoring devices called “Pods”. These Pods are small, lightweight, and easy to use; they offer numerous advantages over larger, more expensive equipment.
Our research group has worked with communities throughout Colorado, both Front Range and rural, to integrate Pods and climate change education into schools' science curriculum, support community-led research efforts, and to make these tools available to local governments. We believe that Boulder County schools and civic centers, such as parks and libraries, would be a great addition to our existing network. We are eager to see what others can do with these tools, if we simply make them available.
Imagine a set of Pods throughout the city and another set available for use by community groups, nonprofits, schools, and even businesses. A stationary network could provide real time feedback on the city’s actions, for example illustrating differences in ambient CO2 concentrations on a typical day vs bike to work day. This data could also inform larger initiatives, such as Boulder’s campaign to become carbon neutral by highlighting emission hotspots. Small businesses could borrow monitors to optimize their own sustainability efforts. These Pods have the power to enhance Boulder’s already strong environmental movement by providing a tool to inform for education, awareness, and action.
What actions do you propose?
Actions that can be taken by the City of Boulder to build community engagement and connectivity around climate change include the integration of Pods into local schools' and community centers such as the Boulder Public Library as well as more public spaces such as the Boulder Creek Path.
A quick stroll down the Boulder Creek Path and you will notice out-of-date, rusted infographics about the surrounding environment all along the path. The infographics often mention preserving and protecting the environment, however, they give no information about its current state or how it has changed over time. We propose replacing these infographics with our low-cost, small form-factor Pods. The data collected by the Pods could be displayed on the spot and would be made available for download and further analysis through a website. Community based-organizations could even adopt a monitor and in addition to displaying the data, share educational information and information about how people can get involved. The city could issue challenges to lower CO2 in specific parts of the city and use Pod data to determine the outcome. Once that data is out there, it could help answer current questions and power future ones.
We believe that partnering with the Boulder Public Library would serve as a great opportunity to communicate and encourage environmental research to the broader Boulder community. We propose the library be a place where individuals or groups are able to “check out” Pods in addition to books. These pods could be used to investigate a local concern or aid the collection of neighborhood-scale data (increasing the local relevancy of the problems we face). Once they are finished they could make their data publicly available on our website and return the Pod to the library. The library could also have a permanent climate change/air quality exhibit, where the Pod technology is showcased and data is presented/visualized in real-time. We are currently working with the University of Colorado Boulder's Museum of Natural History to implement a Pod checkout program, but would like to expand our efforts.
We are currently working on a way for all of the current and future Pod-using communities to be able to share and compare their local data. In the next few months, we will be developing a cloud-computing solution which will allow for anyone to contribute, access and analyze data collected by the Pods. This work is funded through the American Geophysical Union's Thriving Earth Exchange and Amazon Web Services.
As our research group continues to grow our network of communities we work with, we would like to build a strong relationship with our own community, Boulder. With additional funding, our low-cost, easy-to-use air quality Pods and associated Pod-based science curriculum can be easily integrated into schools and community centers globally.
Picture: High school students in Paonia, Colorado setting up an air quality experiment using our Pods.
Who will take these actions?
The City of Boulder and the Boulder Valley School District would be key actors in making the Pods available to its citizens and students. They would be able to do this by creating a Pod check-out program at the Boulder Public Library and by revitalizing the Boulder Creek Path with relevant environmental data provided by our Pods. Boulder Valley School District could immediately use our Pods to supplement existing environmental science curriculums or they could easily adopt our project-based curriculum that we have created specifically for the Pods. This curriculum has been used successfully for two years in high school AP Environmental Science classes in several Colorado communities. Once the foundation is in place and Pods come online, anyone could get involved. At this point we would rely on the environmental movement in Boulder and Boulderites to utilize this data and these tool to enhance existing efforts. Our research group could provide technical support, access to curriculum materials, and expertise related to using low-cost air quality sensors and the analyzing the data they produce.
Boulder-based businesses and non-profits would be able to check-out pods to monitor and optimize their own sustainability efforts. Our project will also provide climate data storage, sharing, and analysis services. With these services the organizations will be able to easily share, compare and communicate their results.
Local ski resorts and national parks also have the potential to be key actors in using Pods to build community engagement and education around climate change. Ski areas and national parks are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. For this reason, they have a lot to gain from spreading public awareness about climate change. Many Colorado ski resorts have existing environmental education initiatives that our Pods could strengthen.
Picture: An example of our Pod "checkout" package. These will soon be available at CU's Museum of Natural History.
What are the key challenges?
The largest challenge would be working with the City of Boulder and the Boulder Valley School District to integrate our monitoring technology into their existing programs. For example, the logistical challenges of siting monitors, and training appropriate groups to use the technology. Then the secondary challenge of understanding and interpreting the data. However, we have overcome this challenge before with the Colorado communities we are currently working with. It requires strong communication and planning between our research group and the community leaders.
Another challenge would be ensuring data quality, however, our team has much expertise in this area. Low-cost air quality sensors are often cross-sensitive to environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, in addition to the gases they are intended to target. Our research team has developed a variety of calibration methods appropriate to different situations. For example, a default calibration model can be applied to data being used in classrooms where it is more important that teachers focus on the lesson present in the data. Alternatively, a more robust calibration method can be used that involves normalization to a reference instrument when high-quality data is desired.
What are the key benefits?
The key benefit of our project would be that it takes the greenhouse gas emissions we talk about and makes them more tangible and relevant to our everyday lives. It also enables citizens to be active members in collecting and analyzing climate/air quality data. The disconnect between scientists and citizens is often created when scientists attempt to communicate their data to the public. If the public is able to see and work with their own data, they will be able to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and impact.
Another key benefit of this program would be that it enables the collection of local data. For example, it allows communities to investigate their own concerns or Boulder organizations and small business to evaluate different GHG mitigation strategies. Prior to the development of low-cost, next-gen air quality monitoring technologies, this was not possible. Also, Boulder organizations and small businesses can use our technology to monitor their own emissions
There are many environmentally focused Non-profit organizations in Boulder. Each with their own education and outreach programs. These organizations often have very similar goals, yet they often work in isolation. Our project will work to unify their efforts and foster collaboration by supplying them with standard environmental monitoring tools which will make their findings more directly comparable.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The proposed costs include providing Pods and services to schools and community centers:
$30,000 for 30 Pods to be supplied to the Boulder community.
- 10 Pods to supplement our existing checkout program at CU's Museum of Natural History.
- 10 Pods to start the Boulder Public Library's checkout program.
- 10 Pods for installation along the Boulder Creek Path.
$5,000 for 500 hours of paid technician work to install necessary infrastructure for Pods in Boulder schools and community centers.
$5,000 for a carbon dioxide reference monitor to be installed at the Boulder Public Library for the Pod checkout problem. This reference monitor will be used to continually calibrate the Pods before and after they are checked out. This will be done to ensure high data quality.
Short Term (5-15 years): Enhance the existing check-out program based at CU Boulder's Natural History Museum by providing additional Pods. Integrate Pods into existing Boulder Valley School District science curriculum. Create Pod check-out program at the Boulder Public Library. Create permanent Pod/climate education sites along the Boulder Creek Path. Expand Pod-based science curriculum and community centers nationally. Provide Pods to Boulder organizations and businesses for use in monitoring their own emissions. We will also provide an online hub for climate data sharing, storage and analysis, this is something our research group is currently developing.
Medium term (15-50): Expand Pod-based science curriculum internationally. Establish long-term monitoring sites at community centers internationally.
Long term (50-100): Our globally distributed network of Pods will be contributing to long-term climate measurement datasets for climate data analysis and climate modeling.
Related proposalsValue not set.
Hannigan Research Group Website:
Article about current involvement in Delta County high schools:
Information about the cloud-based computing solution we are building with the Thriving Earth Exchange and Amazon Web Services: