Exploring Real Time Air Quality Monitoring Data
The AQI or Air Quality Index is a measure of how much pollution is in the air in a given location at a given time of day. Many cities have constant, real time air quality monitoring so that they are able to alert the public when air quality is unhealthy. This data also can be useful to compare the effectiveness of specific actions and laws. In this week’s assignment, you will be exploring this data, which helpfully has been mapped for you.
Part 1: Look at Global Air Quality Data
Go to the global AQI map found here: http://aqicn.org/here/ (Links to an external site.)
If you have location services on your browser turned off, try this map instead: http://aqicn.org/map/usa/ (Links to an external site.)
Find your city (Spokane Washington) and click to show the whole report. Keep scrolling down the page to get all the information that you’ll need for the rest of this assignment.
Answer the questions below and upload your completed assignment.
- Zoom in on your city/town or enter it into the search box at the top right. What is the color and value of the Air Quality Index where you live?
- Was that surprising to you? Why or why not?
- The AQI is based on the values of 5 pollutants. What are those 5 pollutants?
- For each of the 5 pollutants, list 1 or more sources of that pollutant (this information can be found in this week’s reading or the video on air pollutant types).
- What time of day are PM (particulate matter) concentrations the lowest? When are they the highest?
- Why do you think these concentrations change throughout the day?
- Now zoom out. What places in the United States currently have unhealthy air quality? Why do you think this is?
- Zoom out further. What places in the world currently have unhealthy air quality? Why do you think this is?
- What should you do when air quality in your area is unhealthy?
- There are a few days per year when Seattle’s AQI is unhealthy. What are some things that might cause there to be poor air quality in a city that normally has clean air?
Part 2: A look at State Level Data
The Washington Department of Ecology calculates AQI slightly differently than the EPA, with stricter standards for levels considered hazardous.
Go to the State AQI map found here: https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/home/map (Links to an external site.)
- Zoom in on the city/town. What is the color and value of the circle closest to where you live.
- Is it the same value/color as what you answered in part 1?
- On the top of the map, you can select values for each of 6 pollutants. What happens to some of the circles when you click PM2.5?
- Note: This was a huge source of confusion during the September 2020 smoke season. Different apps used data from all monitoring stations, even if they only were measuring one pollutant. The result was that residents in some areas (e.g. Issaquah) thought they had good air quality and kept exercising outside.
- Which pollutant is included on this map that’s not in the federal AQI?
- Check out this site (https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/home/text/141#AirPollutants (Links to an external site.)) and tell me the different between different sizes of particulate matter. What are the health consequences of breathing particulate matter?
- Were you in Washington state during the September 2020 fire season? Did you feel any of these health effects?