Smart Cities

Forecasting air quality in cities: Moving effortlessly from monitoring to management

As urbanization grows and cities become more complex, managing air pollution has become a significant challenge. More than 75% of global energy consumption and carbon emissions originate in cities — a number that puts plenty of pressure on them to improve air quality and residents’ well-being. Cleaner air isn’t just more pleasant: It can save millions of lives and billions in costs.

Community leaders and environmental protection agencies (EPAs) are working to make our cities more breathable and sustainable through air pollution mitigation strategies. However, weather conditions, urban landscapes and other factors have made measurements a moving target which makes mitigation difficult to target and track.

Accurate, highly localized air quality data and tools are the keys to improving the air and protecting communities. Modern technology has finally caught up with air quality management goals, and the solution takes less effort and costs than you might think.

Modern air quality monitoring

Fixed air quality monitoring stations provide extremely accurate measurements. Many cities have them, but they are usually sparsely located which leaves significant gaps of information between the stations.

The solution to this information gap is, of course, adding more air quality and weather sensors. A dense network of highly accurate sensors gives a more detailed picture of the current air quality situation, with much more data on pollutant conditions and how they evolve.

Installing more fixed monitoring stations is one approach, though this can be expensive and time-consuming. The modern alternative is an all-in-one weather and air quality measurement station such as Vaisala Beacon Station. These units provide measurements, data storage and secure data transfer. The unit can be up and ready in about an hour, then moved and repurposed if needed.

Refining data into forecasts

If a dense sensor network fills information gaps, then forecasting fills insight gaps and turns them into action.

Recently introduced, Vaisala Air Quality Forecast empowers decision makers to take actions to decrease air pollution, and inform citizens to make right choices in their daily lives regarding the air quality. The end-to-end solution combines modern dispersion modeling techniques, data fusion algorithms and statistical approaches. The result is a comprehensive, exceptionally accurate picture of local air quality conditions with 15-meter resolution — now and over the next three days.

High-resolution forecasting and map visualizations illustrate pollution hot spots and peak times to support air quality monitoring and management. The hourly air quality index (AQI) and the most critical air pollutants are shown for any chosen location in both graphical form and as a dynamic map.

Getting started with proactive air quality intelligence

A city’s existing reference station data and other current data sources are all that’s needed to integrate air quality forecasting. Local observations can be added with high-quality air quality transmitters and compact air quality and weather stations.

Once deployed, city planners, EPAs and similar organizations can use the insights to make informed decisions such as tracking the effectiveness of air pollution mitigation, acting on an immediate air quality hazard to citizens, and even guiding future infrastructure planning such as traffic control, community parks, and hospital development.

Air pollution is a serious challenge, having major health consequences on a large scale. Regardless of the severity of the problem, preventive air quality management can turn the trend and make all of our cities better places to live and breathe.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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