Fireworks? A joy for sore eyes but not for your lungs

Fireworks? A joy for sore eyes but not for your lungs

Engaging with people to create air quality monitoring networks that complement governmental measuring stations. Using a scientific, yet lean and financially sustainable, approach. Putting information together, analyzing and spreading it to inform the people and build a better world.

These are only some of the principles that guide PlanetWatch in the development of an extensive network to collect air quality data over time and study some very specific phenomena.

A first tangible example of this strategy is hyperlocal air quality monitoring in the city of Taranto. This project is still in its early stages; three monitoring stations have already been installed, but many more will be deployed in the coming months

Residents in Taranto have welcomed warmly the possibility to install PlanetWatch air quality monitoring devices on their balconies. Engaging locals has been key to the success of the project: in fact, giving people tools to check the quality of the air they breathe daily is a way to increase awareness and encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. In addition, support from residents has been instrumental to get sensors quickly deployed and activated during pandemic times.

The firsts result of air pollution analysis on Taranto

Data is collected every 5 minutes through a network of devices which strike the best balance between high technological standards and affordable costs. It is a two-level network, blending advanced devices that measure particulate matter, PM2.5, and gases such as NO2, O3 and CO, and simpler devices that measure only PM2.5. The result is a mesh that provides useful information for the analysis of air pollutions as well as for a detailed investigation of the correlations, over space and time, between the measured values and potentially relevant phenomena such as traffic, heating systems and industrial activities.

The first study conducted on the Taranto data has so far confirmed some typical patterns.

The following graph shows the average daily pattern of particulate matter, measured in two different parts of the city. As you can see the area closer to the industrial park, exposed to heavy traffic, shows a much higher level of PM2.5 when compared to the other one (a residential estate).

Average daily pattern PM2,5 – Taranto – 30 November 2020 – 04 February 2021

On a typical day you can see an increase of PM2.5 in the afternoon (related to rush hour traffic).

The typical week shows similar trends every day, except for Tuesday afternoon, with a clear increase in the middle of the day.

Typical day PM2,5 – Taranto – 30 November 2020 – 04 February 2021
Typical week PM2,5 – Taranto – 30 November 2020 – 04 February 2021

An intriguing feature emerges: an unusual peak around midnight, on a regular day, and on the night between Thursday and Friday on the typical week graph, both highlighted by the blue band in the figures. Why?

In this case, the mystery is solved by just checking the date and time of the unusual event: the graph shows PM2.5 spikes in the night between 31 December 2020 and 01 January 2021. In fact, the spikes between 8 p.m. on 31 December and 3 a.m. on 01 January, are the direct result of the pollution caused by the New Year’s Eve fireworks!

PlanetWatch future‘s potential for air quality investigation

This is a simple yet good example of the potential of PlanetWatch’s high-resolution datasets as a tool to spot the impact of unusual or isolated events and investigate their causes. When our Taranto network will be fully deployed, we believe we’ll be able monitor and detect a wide range of phenomena and patterns and deliver valuable information which complements data from governmental agencies.  

Stay tuned and look after our Planet!

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