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Street by street: How we’re mapping air quality in Europe

by Karin Tuxen-Bettman on May.26, 2021, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Since 2015, dozens of Street View cars outfitted with pollution sensors have been cruising the roads to track air quality in cities all over the world — from Oakland to Sydney. Over the past six years, these cars have collected more than 100 million street-by-street air quality measurements, all for Project Air View — our effort to bring detailed air quality maps to scientists, policymakers and everyday people. These hyperlocal air quality measurements are helping governments and communities make more informed choices about changes that can help city residents breathe cleaner air.


In celebration of EU Green Week next week,we are sharing a new air quality map for Copenhagen and recently started working with the City of Dublin to collect air quality measurements with Aclima technology in our first-ever, all-electric Street View car. This is all part of Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE), our free tool that provides thousands of cities with actionable data and insights to reduce their emissions.


Capturing air quality in Copenhagen

In 2018, we started mapping hyperlocal air quality in Copenhagen, working closely with the City of Copenhagen and Utrecht University, in collaboration with Aarhus University. The map — which is already being put to use —  includes measurements of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), black carbon, and ultrafine particles. Through mapping street-by-street air quality we found that Copenhagen’s major access roads have nearly three times more ultrafine particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and five times higher black carbon levels when compared to less trafficked residential areas.
This air quality map shows the street-by-street average of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Utrecht University & Google, 2021.

This air quality map shows the street-by-street average of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Utrecht University & Google, 2021.

Armed with these air quality insights, the City of Copenhagen and urban planners are working to design future neighborhoods that include “Thrive Zones.” These zones aim to build places, like schools and playgrounds, away from high-pollution zones to provide young children with access to cleaner air. The city also plans to use the air quality data to encourage more sustainable transportation and create healthier bicycle and walking routes away from car traffic.


An all-electric Street View car hits the road in Dublin

We’ve also partnered with the City of Dublin to gather hyperlocal air quality measurements in Ireland’s capital, where our first all-electric Street View vehicle, a Jaguar I-PACE, has hit the roads. This is the first time an all-electric Google Street View car is being used to capture air pollution and greenhouse gas measurements and Google Street View imagery — a feat made possible due to Jaguar Land Rover engineers integrating Google's Street View technology and specialized Aclima sensors into the vehicle.

Our Jaguar I-PACE is able to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitric oxide (NO), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and ozone (O3). Aclima’s platform analyzes and quality assures pollution measurements to develop these maps.


The road ahead

Project Air View’s air quality insights will be integrated into the European Commission-funded  European Expanse project, which is exploring how pollution is impacting the health of Europeans and how hyperlocal air quality measurement efforts can inform policy development.


We also plan to equip more Street View cars with air quality mapping capabilities so that we can continue sharing hyperlocal air quality insights. By mapping air quality in more cities, we can equip people with the information they need to create more sustainable cities that protect the health of everyone.


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Working to map the air everywhere and help #BeatAirPollution

by Karin Tuxen-Bettman on Jun.05, 2019, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Whenever I go for a bike ride, I use Google Maps to find bike lanes and avoid busy streets. When I take my kids to the park, I check the weather forecast so I know what to expect. Imagine if we could also see maps of air quality in our neighborhoods, and route ourselves around the pollution for cleaner, healthier bike rides or park visits. What if every city in the world had “hyperlocal” air pollution information so that urban planners could pinpoint hotspots on maps and work to fix air quality problems?


This goal is a good one to reflect on today for World Environment Day. This year’s theme raises awareness for air pollution, encouraging people everywhere to take action to #BeatAirPollution. Doing so will require a lot of effort from businesses, utilities, governments, scientists and everyday citizens.


Project Air View is our commitment toward this goal: It’s Google’s effort to help map air pollution in every city in the world and give people and organizations accurate and reliable high-resolution maps of air quality. After our partners at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) first proposed the idea in 2012, we equipped Google Street View cars with air pollution sensors—starting with measuring greenhouse gas methane (with EDF), and expanding to measure particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and more (with Aclima and EDF).
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Street View cars equipped with Aclima air quality sensors

Today scientists are starting to merge street-level air quality data with contextual data like satellite imagery, weather data, and government monitoring station data. New satellite sensors, like TROPOMI on the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5p, are delivering daily pictures of air pollution for the entire globe. You can find this air quality satellite data in Google Earth Engine, along with weather data, atmospheric data and a lot of other Earth observation data (30 petabytes worth!).

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Animation showing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in California and Nevada
for the time period August 27 to September 6, 2018.


Fusing this satellite data with ground-level air quality is made easier by putting environmental data in the cloud. Air quality data collected with Street View cars is served up to researchers via Google Cloud BigQuery, where they can query the tens of millions of records in a matter of seconds. You can also find government monitoring station data published by EPA and OpenAQ in BigQuery through the Google Cloud Public Datasets program.

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How Project Air View can help us understand more about ground-level air quality

Air quality is an important issue and can be difficult to map on hyperlocal level, which is why we’ve taken time to make sure we get it right. We’ve made a lot of progress. After launching air quality maps for Oakland, CA with Aclima and EDF, we expanded to other regions of the state. More recently, we have worked with our research partners to add other U.S. cities like Houston and Salt Lake City, as well as Copenhagen, London, and Amsterdam in Europe.


And today, we’re publishing a new batch of air quality data—the measurements we've made with Aclima between 2017 and 2018. Scientists can request access to the data via this form. This new mapping data supplements our previously released hyperlocal air quality data, which includes measurements in the San Francisco Bay Area and the northern San Joaquin Valley. The combined datasets now contain 140,000 miles and 7,000 hours of driving from 2016 through 2018. The data captures over three years of air quality moments and insights, big and small.


What’s next?

By the end of this year, we’ll equip 50 more Street View cars with the mobile-friendly Aclima Mobile Sensor Node, and hit the road in cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America.We’ll continue using tools like BigQuery and platforms like the Air Quality Data Commons to share this data with researchers whose work helps policymakers, businesses, and utilities make better decisions around air quality in their cities.


In the future, we hope existing fleets of vehicles can be used in cities around the world for air quality measurement. We’re already seeing this happen. EDF and Houston’s Public Health Department worked together to equip a few vehicles in their city fleet with air sensors. EDF and the connected vehicle company, GeoTab, published a report showing how cities can determine if they can do the same. And recently, Aclima and Google Cloud have partnered to make this a reality in partnership with cities and counties across the U.S. and around the world, starting with the County of San Mateo and more than 100 municipalities with over 10 million people in California through next year.


Research like this can spread awareness about air pollution, drive new science, and help people take action. If cities around the world join in the effort to measure air pollution, it will be one giant step toward achieving the lofty goal to #BeatAirPollution.


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