Leveraging Earth Observation data for Air Quality Monitoring

Blog / Evangelos Kosmidis & Panagiota Syropoulou / October 1, 2018

There are millions of people who breathe dangerously polluted air worldwide every day. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is linked to 7 million deaths every year and has serious effects on human health, including the development of respiratory issues, cardiovascular issues, lung cancer, and asthmatic attacks. The impacts of air pollution are also very harmful for the environment, as they cause nutrient balance changes in coastal waters and river basins, increased acidity of lakes and streams, damage to stone and other materials.

Today, more than ever, it is evident that there is a clear need for action to protect populations from the air pollution crisis.

Even though people are generally aware of the effects of air pollution, they usually don’t make the connection between their own individual behaviours and these outcomes, and they don’t feel that they can contribute to mitigating the problem. One of the reasons for this is that air pollution is an invisible threat and the impact isn’t seen until it is too late.

Air pollution data is scattered in various sources, and the form in which it is provided is usually difficult to understand. This is particularly important for citizens, who cannot interpret large and complex datasets. Air quality alerts are offered by some cities, but are presented in a generic form that does not consider personal health sensitivities and habits. On top of that, credible air pollution forecasts are not available for all places around the world. Earth observation data can complement the information received from ground monitoring stations, providing timely and spatially explicit information on air quality.

Satellite remote sensing of the atmospheric composition in the Ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy has a long heritage at the global scale, including missions like GOME, SCIAMACHY, GOME-2 and OMI, which allowed the development of algorithms by NASA, KNMI, DLR and others to estimate the tropospheric content of key pollutants like NO2, SO2, O3, HCHO and aerosols. However, the spatial resolution of these products was too coarse to allow identification of pollution sources at an urban scale. In the Sentinel era, the TROPOMI/S5P platform (launched in 2017) provides high spatial (3x7.5km2) and temporal coverage information of the atmospheric composition of the key air quality species at an urban scale.

With years of expertise in the environmental informatics field, DRAXIS Environmental SA is using Earth observation data to develop ICT solutions that help citizens, industries and governments monitor and tackle the negative impacts of air pollution. These solutions include:

  • Envi4All: An air quality information service and app
    Envi4All is a service that provides direct access to easy-to-understand information on air quality (current, forecast, and historical), making use of diverse sources of open data on air quality. Envi4All is offered through a free mobile application and an API service, while the forecast methodology uses products from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring System (CAMS) - a GEO Community Activity, and official air quality measurements and data from sensors. The Envi4All app provides users with alerts for poor air quality conditions, as well as personalized tips on how to protect themselves according to their needs and sensitivities.
  • HackAIR: An open platform for accessing, collecting, and improving air quality information in Europe
    HackAIR is a European Commission Horizon2020 project that raises awareness about the daily levels of human exposure to air pollution. It enables citizens and organizations to easily engage in generating and publishing information relevant to outdoor air pollution, complementing official data. HackAIR collects data from a variety of sources and uses it to provide targeted information on air quality in the ambient environment at specific locations, as well as personalized recommendations for outdoor activities given the current conditions. CAMS products are used for performing data fusion techniques, providing users with information about air quality at every location and visualize these observations as a spatially continuous map.

Currently, citizens interested in learning more about the air quality in the places they live, or citizens willing to contribute in the air quality crowdsourced data can use both the hackAIR and Envi4All apps. The users of hackAIR can build their own air quality hackAIR home sensor and contribute to the crowdsourced data by providing their own measurements, while the users of Envi4All can state their perception of the air quality in their neighbourhood.

DRAXIS is taking advantage of the revolution in the field of Earth observation-based air quality monitoring and forecasting to design the next generation of high-resolution emission inventories. This will improve the accuracy and quality of the existing services and help those suffering from the effects of air pollution.


About the authors

Evangelos Kosmidis

Dr Evangelos Kosmidis, Founder of DRAXIS Environmental SA


Panagiota Syropoulou

Mrs Panagiota Syropoulou Project Manager, Air Pollution Expert at DRAXIS Environmental SA


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