OpenAQ Impact Story

FILLING IN KEY DATA GAPS: PLATFORM CONTRIBUTIONS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE

By Chisato Calvert, Deputy Director of OpenAQ

This is part of a contributor’s series featuring stories that highlight members of the OpenAQ Community and their impact.

Just as the world’s tallest skyscrapers require strong foundations from which to be built, the most effective solutions to combat air pollution require access to data. While the data-sharing infrastructure is invisible, we believe that it is foundational for solving one of the biggest environmental health threats of our time.

There is a common misconception that you need to be an “air quality expert” to fight air inequality. OpenAQ firmly believes that it takes a variety of expertise to more effectively create change in communities across the globe. This series highlights impact profiles of key contributors that have played an integral role in ensuring that air quality data is made openly available to the public in the collective fight against air inequality.

Impact Profile: Espen Overbye

According to the Norwegian Asthma and Allergy Federation (NAAF), more than one million Norwegians suffer from pollen, asthma and other pulmonary diseases , and this number is rising each year. Pollen season in Norway begins in early March from sources including grass, wagweed, and birch trees.

Drawn to this environmental health issue affecting citizens in his hometown of Oslo, Espen Overbye is determined to apply his extensive experience working in IT to develop mechanisms to help inform the broader public about air quality. When he joined the Airmine team in 2018, he explored various databases that provided important air quality information that could help create a robust system for the development of their products.

Espen came across the OpenAQ platform while conducting research on various ways through which to harvest air quality data. Many of the sites, including AQICN provided AQI values, while robust in its coverage, weren’t accessible for use through an API. Espen found that the OpenAQ platform provided a simple way to connect to global data that was easily accessible with a standardized format.

Utilizing OpenAQ data, Airmine builds an air quality forecasting system to inform the public about air quality. Through the Airmine app, residents can track daily air quality data, see air quality data forecasts, select allergens and their spread, and read guidelines on how to protect one’s exposure.

“Combining ground monitoring data from OpenAQ, weather data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET) and satellite data from ESA, we’re able to provide valuable forecasting information to residents that can help guide their daily decision making,” Espen explains.

The Airmine app allows residents to predict air quality levels. Air quality forecast model heavily depending on data from OpenAQ. Source: Airmine

In addition to the air quality data, Airmine is also developing a low-cost outdoor air quality and pollen sensor. Specifically, this device will track PM2.5 and PM10 to let individuals assess air quality where they live, and take measures to reduce exposures. Data from the sensor will be available in Airmine’s mobile app.

Airmine has also built a pollen forecasting model for Europe, Espen explains. Going forward, we are researching how to use the sensor measurements in combination with our models to improve our pollen level predictions.

Grass pollen forecast for Europe for spring 2020. Source: Airmine website

For Espen and his colleague Magnus from the Airmine team, contributing to the OpenAQ platform was an important way to “pay it forward” and to ensure that new data sources were being added to the OpenAQ platform for more global coverage. Espen and his team contributed air quality data sources in Korea, Italy, Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Ghana, Guinea, Sweden, Sudan, Chad, and Mexico onto the OpenAQ platform — 8 new countries and more than 600 stations. They also created or fixed adapters for Japan, Thailand, South Africa, UAE, Montenegro, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Netherlands, Turkey, Serbia.

“As providers in the air quality field aiming to raise public awareness of how air quality can affect human health, we wanted to contribute to the OpenAQ platform as good stewards in this space,” Espen explains.

“We have a lot to think about with air quality, particularly given the current state of the world with climate change having very profound transboundary effects on air quality. For example, the smoke from the recent wildfires in California traveled all the way to Norway. We need to be informed about the different sources of pollution and what we can do about it to protect our health.”

We're making an open, real-time air quality data hub because we think it'll let people do amazing things. Want to help out? Find us at openaq.org.