Blowin’ in the wind: University of Auckland’s breakthrough air quality measurement programme

The University of Auckland’s air quality measurement programme in high-density urban environments made significant progress in 2017, receiving our Endeavour Fund Gold Status.

A key project involved installing multi-parameter, low-cost air quality instruments around busy roads and intersections in Auckland, in collaboration with Aeroqual, Mote Ltd and Beca. The data received from a busy section of Dominion Road and the Union St motorway junction provided a mountain of valuable data on air quality using novel low-cost equipment, and included analysis of pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle movements from Bluetooth and video technology.

The data will be used to provide improved models of the geographic distribution of air pollution concentration. Combined with an understanding of how people move through these areas, this will provide high resolution, pollution exposure maps at the local and urban level. This will be useful for targeting air quality management zones which may not necessarily be the areas where highest pollution concentrations are found, but areas of moderate pollution where large numbers of people are exposed.

Such models will also help improve understanding of how urban design affects pollution exposure. Understanding how people interact with areas of air pollution will provide us with better estimates of the population’s exposure to air pollution, and will improve our understanding of the chronic health impacts from poor air quality. The instruments used have now been refined and commercialised by Aeroqual, marketed as the ‘AQY’.

The team has also been busy with other air quality projects around New Zealand and the world, collaborating with Mote Ltd and Environment Canterbury to develop real-time air quality network diagnostics around Christchurch.

A second project to measure spatial variation of air quality in small scale urban centres was undertaken in Vancouver. The project used a portable nitrogen dioxide instrument from Aeroqual and developed in part in this programme.

The team also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles and are now installing a network of 100 instruments as part of a 'citizen science' project. The project is based on the team’s demonstrated success in showing reliable data from low-cost instruments and the excellence of their research programme.