Air pollution to be fought using open data


The two-day Open Air Quality Workshop, held from November 18 to 20, encouraged public initiatives to enable residents to start fighting air pollution in one of the most heavily air-polluted capitals of the world, Ulaanbaatar.
The workshop was very well timed as the Mongolian government left the battle against air pollution to NGOs and individuals and dismantled the Clean Air Fund, Mongolia’s only state-run organization working to decrease air pollution.
The ideas from the participants were mostly related to creating software and using smartphone applications to raise public awareness with open data as 55 percent of the Mongolian population use smartphones regularly.
American atmospheric scientist Christa Hasenkopf and software developer Joseph Flasher co-founded OpenAQ, a non-profit organization that aims to collect air quality data and form a standardized and aggregated database of historical and real-time information that is open to the public. They held their first workshop in Mongolia with the help of Internews and Earth Journalism Network.
Currently, OpenAQ collects data from 11 countries, and has over a million data records and they’re still expanding.
Leading air quality researchers in the nation, anthropologists, urban planners, journalists and software developers participated in the workshop to find solution to the data gap between researchers and the media.
On day one, the workshop participants learned to access the OpenAQ platform and brainstormed ways to utilize the data from the platform, such as forming comparative graphs and using the findings to make software and hardware. An idea to install LED lights on trees which will act as an indicator of air pollution levels received the support of many. It urges parents to carry their children above those LED lighted levels to decrease the impact of pollution.
Day two focused on brainstorming and expanding on the previously proposed ideas, and developing the mechanism that links media with scientists. Researchers from Mongolia and the U.S. gave speeches on the importance of raw-data and its usage in raising public awareness.
Doctors from the School of Public Health at the National University of Medicine G.Enkhjargal and L.Munkh-Erdene spoke about the health dangers and mortality rates of those suffering from diseases associated to air pollution, as well as its macro-economic effects. Dr. Lodoisamba from the German-Mongolian Institute for Resources and Technology presented his ongoing research about the difference of how much air pollution a person is exposed to depending on their environment. Dr. Langley Dewitt, Dr. Sachin Shah, and Dr. Dewitt, an MIT scholar working in Rwanda, spoke about how installing one monitoring station in the rural area revealed that air pollution levels could be high in a non-urban area, which changed the way the world looks at air pollution.
On the final day, participants integrated all the ideas and came up with three priorities for resolving air pollution issues in Ulaanbaatar. The first was to raise public awareness through a daily notification system about air pollution levels. Secondly, including lessons about air quality in the Mongolian secondary education curriculum. The education curriculum is expected bring awareness of the problem to younger generations.
“We targeted children, as they are one of the most at-risk groups, and their behaviors can be changed easily,” said British anthropologist and urban planner Alex Skinner.
The last group discussed to create a directory website to make data from scientific studies accessible to journalists and scientists that incorporates user-friendly graphs and by hosting discussion forums.
Software developer B.Dulguun has unveiled a prototype of a user-friendly interface that operates on the OpenAQ platform, and a map of all the available geo-tagged sites in the platform.
Enkhbolor Gantulga, an ICT and economic consultant at the World Bank Mongolia, invited attendees to introduce the priority ideas at the next Green Nation Challenge event, which promotes social entrepreneurship in Mongolia.

The following is a short interview with the co-founder of OpenAQ Joseph Flasher about the importance of open data.

Why did you decide to build this platform?

Many countries make their own air quality data open. But each country has their own index and measure air quality differently, so it’s harder to make comparisons and studies based on it. Nobody is making and standardizing one source for all of the global data. So we decided to do it.

Why is it important to have open air quality data?

The real value is in allowing other people to build tools on top of it. We don’t think we can create one site that works for everyone. Rather than relying on one website to work for everyone, we’re making the data open so that anyone can build the tool that satisfies and fulfills their most demanding need.

How will other countries benefit from Ulaanbaatar’s experience?

Open data helps everyone. Sharing all the world’s data will allow people in other countries to look at problems in different countries. Different cities that have similar air pollution issues can compare each others’ data and exchange experiences and work together in battling air pollution. Ulaanbaatar has the same air pollution and car problems as Shenzheng and Hohhot, China. By getting their data online, it allows scientists elsewhere to try and solve the problems there and if it works there, it might also work in UB, or vice versa.

What were your expectations from the workshop?

I expected to get a smart, dedicated group of people together and have them share ideas. I wanted them to learn about the OpenAQ platform and be excited about what we were doing. My expectations were more than fulfilled. Everyone understood why we were doing it and were supportive. Even though I’m leaving to America, I’m sure I’m leaving behind a very vibrant community.

What are your plans in the long-run?

In the long-run, we want to build a platform that allows anyone who wants it to freely access the world air quality data. We’ve already started building that, but we need more stations and more people to build things on top of the data to get the message out there to everyone.


Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=17117

Posted by on Nov 27 2015. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “Air pollution to be fought using open data”

  1. openAQ has the responsiblity to make the air pollution in the capital cities better than the ones that are in the rural areas. This is not so difficult with the open data that is now available for the user to make the LED lights in the right places on the tree to carry the children above.

  2. So now we have perfect data, but what are we going to DO with them? Just look at them and shake our heads?

    • We can use this data with others to show the real impact to Mongolians, their health, and their economy. One data set in a vacuum doesn’t explain much, but what if we mapped this with hospital reports, weather patterns, etc? There are so many tools out there, someone just needs to use them.

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