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November 7, 2017

Google and Aclima show you how bad air pollution in California can be

by John_A

If seeing is believing, then Google is here to convert us all — at least, as far as air pollution is concerned. In an attempt to better understand local air quality, Google teamed up with environmental intelligence company Aclima, mapping air pollution throughout California using Google Street View cars outfitted with air quality sensors. The company published initial results of this collaboration earlier in 2017, but now, Google wants to give Californians even more detail about their air quality (or lack thereof). Now, you can view the air pollution levels in three distinct areas of the West Coast — San Francisco, Los Angeles, and California’s Central Valley.

Google’s Street View cars traveled 100,000 miles and 4,000 hours to collect the data to determine how air quality changes by block, by the hour, and by day. The hope is that the results can be used by scientists and air quality specialists to help local organizations, governments, and regulators “achieve greater air quality improvements and solutions.”

In their explorations of Los Angeles, the cars found that congested highways, local streets, and even weather patterns contributed to blowing pollution inland.

In looking at the San Francisco Bay Area, Google found that a significant proportion of air pollution came from cars, trucks, and construction equipment, and industrial polluters like refineries and power plants. Even street-level pollution patterns reflected these sources.

Finally, in the Central Valley, Google and Aclima discovered that the interstate traffic that runs along Interstate 5 and Interstate 99 contributed significantly to air pollution. And even though the Central Valley is largely rural and boasts a significant agricultural population, even this industry creates quite a bit of air pollution. Google pointed out, “weather conditions and topography can trap air pollution between the coast and the Sierra Nevada mountains resulting in a chronic ozone and particulate matter levels that exceed public health standards.”

Google isn’t keeping this information and its data visualizations behind lock and key. Rather, the company is allowing air quality scientists to request access to the data. Thus far, more than 1 billion air quality data points have been analyzed, but it seems that much more information is soon to come. “Air quality impacts our planet and our health,” Google noted. “We hope this information helps us build smarter more sustainable cities, reduce climate-changing greenhouse gases and improve air quality for healthier living.”

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