Pigeons Are Tweeting About London’s Air Quality

Pigeons equipped with sensors are measuring air quality in London.

Autor*in Anna Rees, 04.04.16

Pigeons equipped with sensors are measuring air quality in London.

Transmitters of disease, air rats, destroyers of car paint destroyers: pigeons get a bad rap. In London, an experiment is currently being carried out that might polish their image a little. They’re being used as flying measuring instruments to detect city air pollution.

Stations that measure air quality are present in almost every European city. The thing is, though, that values can differ greatly between, say, a few blocks, depending on how high the stations are placed. These variations are difficult for immobile stations to detect, creating so-called blind spots, meaning unreliable data is used to map out air quality in the city. This in turn makes the scientific development of air pollution control plans difficult.

As part of the aforementioned experiment, 10 pigeons were kitted out with sensor backpacks for three days to collect dynamic data and close existing knowledge gaps. The main focus of the project was to measure nitrogen oxide and the ozone. The project comes none too soon. In terms of poor air quality, London ranks up there with the worst. A study carried out by King’s College London estimated that around 9,500 people in the city die each year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution.

Animals to the Rescue!

Just as camera-equipped vultures are being used to spot littering in Peru, so too are these pigeons being used as part of a broader public awareness campaign about air pollution and the risks it poses to the environment and human health. The project has a Twitter account which people can tweet their location to and receive info about the air quality there.

A future plan for the campaign is to equip one hundred Londoners with small wearable sensors to have them act as ground patrol and collect more data under the slogan “Today pigeons, tomorrow humans”.

Translated from this article by Silvana that was originally published on our German-language platform.

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