Operation Healthy Air

Our newest program, Operation Healthy Air will engage partners and participants to map and measure how differences in their environment – such as the amount of trees or pavement, affect local air quality and temperature. Starting with pilot sampling “campaigns” in Long Beach, and Chino, and the Inland Empire (e.g. Riverside and Redlands) in the summer of 2017, we will look to expand in 2018 to greater Los Angeles and other cities. This program is funded by grants from NASA’s Earth Sciences program and the National Science Foundation, as well as individual donors. Operation Healthy Air is a partnership between national and local partners, community-based organizations, Universities, Aquaria and government agencies, and community members. 

Operation Healthy Air - Project Partners
Operation Healthy Air – Project Partners

What is healthy air?

Two of the greatest threats to human well-being in urban environments are the dramatic increase in extreme heat days (i.e. days above 105o F) and exposure to air pollutants including particulates and ozone. These pollutants can present severe health risks especially to those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Currently, general public announcements do notify people of extreme (heat, smog…) days with general health recommendations such as remaining indoors or seeking cool shelters – but this information is often on a more general scale than we need to make our daily decisions. These general numbers do not reflect real variation in air temperature and pollution from house to house or neighborhood to neighborhood. Making the right decision is important, especially when considering some of our most vulnerable communities (e.g. children, elderly, economically disadvantaged, health challenged).

Operation Healthy Air seeks to increase our understanding of the role of vegetation such as trees in decreasing air temperature and improving air quality at scales that communities make decisions – in this case, the cooling of local neighborhoods and reducing ozone formation.

The Operation Healthy Air program will develop a local citizen network of air sensors (temperature and humidity, and ozone sensors). Citizens will also map the local habitats around each sensor to test how different amounts of “green” (e.g. trees), “blue” (e.g. rivers, pools), and “grey” (e.g. buildings and pavement) environments influence local air quality. The local citizen networks will be integrated with other (e.g. research and government) networks of air sensors to develop a more comprehensive picture of regional variation in air quality.

How can citizen scientists help
How can citizen scientists help

What do we hope to achieve?

Creating healthy and resilient urban environments for all including vulnerable communities is a high priority in cities globally. The creation and maintenance of green spaces in urban environments is seen as one of the most promising ways of creating a healthy city – for people and nature. There are many known benefits of trees, bushes, and other plants, including increased cooling, better human health (e.g. through increased physical activity) and higher property values. But people are often skeptical about investing in green space, whether it be their backyards, their streets, or parks because trees require resources (e.g. water), and their pollen, fruit, and leaves can be problematic. By improving our collective understanding of the benefits of trees in urban environments, we hope to increase our confidence in which trees to plant and where they will have the greatest influence in building healthy urban environments.

Programs in 2017

Operation Healthy Air will start with “campaigns” in Long Beach, and Chino, and the Inland Empire (e.g. Riverside and Redlands) in the summer of 2017 focusing on air temperature and ozone, expanding in 2018 to greater Los Angeles and other cities.

Operation Healthy Air 2017 Pilot Study Areas
Operation Healthy Air 2017 Pilot Study Areas

We have chosen ozone as a key pollutant because it is a toxic gas and can seriously compromise the health of people with respiratory illness such as asthma. Ground-level ozone (O3) is formed when the right mix of precursor pollutants (Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) comes together with sunlight and heat. These conditions occur in proximity to sources of these precursors (such as ports, highways, energy generation facilities) as well as places where these precursors collect (due to the prevailing wind currents) and are concentrated far away from the original sources. This is why some national parks (e.g. Joshua Tree National Park, and, Acadia National Park in Maine) can have terrible air pollution problems despite not producing any pollution themselves. Similarly, while the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro are large producers of pollutants, the downstream effects are often worst along the foothills and Riverside. This is why we are starting this project in both Long Beach and the Inland Empire (e.g. Chino, Riverside, Redlands).

Check out the geographic locations of our pilot program

How to get involved and stay in touch

If you wish to get involved in Operation Healthy Air as a citizen scientist, volunteer or partner, contact our Director of Research Initiatives, Mark Chandler mchandler@earthwatch.org

For our upcoming information and training sessions visit our Events page and also follow us on Facebook.

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