The Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany has released findings from a study assessing the potential socio-economic and financial benefits of enhanced air quality data. The study was sponsored by NASA Applied Sciences and conducted through a partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CTG, and Sonoma Technology (STI).
The study sought to better understand the benefits provided by current air quality data and data products from EPA’s AirNow program and how enhancing AirNow with NASA satellite data might contribute to different or greater benefits in the future.
The AirNow program provides the public with easy access to national ambient air quality information using the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is a standardized index for reporting air quality based on health effects for five major air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
AirNow presents near-real-time hourly AQI conditions and daily AQI forecasts, with maps of interpolated AQI levels on national, regional, and local spatial scales. This information is converted into AQI forecasts and distributed to the public and media (e.g., USA Today and CNN). However, the current ground-based monitoring network is concentrated in population centers and therefore has large geographic gaps. Approximately forty-two million Americans live in unmonitored areas, or monitor-sparse locations. Satellite data could provide air quality information in these monitor-sparse locations; as well as, provide additional information in monitor-dense locations.
CTG Study Director Sharon Dawes said, “This study showed that users with different needs and capabilities can all benefit from enhanced air quality data. Equally important, the study findings emphasize the importance of stewardship in ensuring the usability, usefulness, and value of any public data. When people understand the data sources, precision, timeliness, and format, they can use it for diverse benefits to individuals, groups, and society.”
An example of enhanced benefits is how improved air quality data in rural agricultural areas could support research on how various air quality conditions impact the health and productivity of farm workers – studies that would have both public health and economic value. One researcher interviewed for this study said, “[NASA] Satellite data might enable studies to associate levels of productivity with ambient air quality in small scale areas with findings that might inform both public policies and business practices.”
The research involved two efforts:
The case studies looked at the ways in which government and related organizations use air quality data gathered from the existing ground-based monitoring network mandated by the Clean Air Act and projected how public value could be increased by fusing the existing network data with data collected by satellites for PM2.5.
The case study data comprised 26 interviews with federal, state, and local environmental and public health officials, nonprofit and community organizations, and researchers in the three metropolitan areas. The research team analyzed the case study data using CTG’s Public Value Framework to assess the impact of the satellite enhanced data along several dimensions including economic, social, strategic, quality of life, stewardship, and mission impacts.
By interviewing actual data users, the study revealed that satellite-enhanced data could provide increased value to society in the following ways:
The financial analysis estimated the cost savings of using satellite data instead of installing new monitors to provide air quality information for public health decisions to populations in currently unmonitored locations. The fusion of NASA satellite data with ground measurements could make daily PM2.5 data available to 98.5% of people living in unmonitored populated places at a negligible cost; because the capital cost for the satellites and the data has long been paid, the data are just being used in a new way. By contrast, it would take 74 new monitoring stations to provide about half the coverage at a cost of $25.9 million over five years
Tim Dye, STI Senior Vice President said, “We’re excited about building the data fusion software framework, which fuses together many different data sources to let us all breathe better. NASA data provided us with a comprehensive, nationwide data source to create the system. Now the system is poised to fuse other data sources (new satellite data, citizen based data, crowd sourced information, etc.).”
Phil Dickerson, Group Leader, US EPA, Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards said, “This study reveals the broad value proposition presented by air quality information. By understanding the data itself, who uses it and how they use it, US EPA and NASA have found novel uses for data that was already being collected.”
The full study and the cases can be downloaded from the CTG website.
Sonoma Technology, Inc. (STI) is an employee-owned firm that delivers innovative, science- and technology-based solutions for our clients' air quality and meteorological needs worldwide. Our integrated teams of atmospheric scientists, engineers, programmers, analysts, and specialists generate products, services, and measurements tailored to meet each client's unique needs. Our work empowers government, industry, university, and non-profit organizations to make informed, timely decisions about environmental issues. We listen, we act, we deliver.
The mission of the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany is to foster public sector innovation, enhance capability, generate public value, and support good governance. We carry out this mission through applied research, knowledge sharing, and collaboration at the intersection of policy, management, and technology.
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