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The Sciences

Enter EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge!

Citizen Science Salon iconCitizen Science SalonBy GuestOctober 19, 2016 12:00 AM
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A factory smokestack in New Jersey emits pollutants into the atmosphere.Photo Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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What if you had access to air quality data — minute-by- minute — from hundreds of locations in your community at the same time? How would you manage that data– and how would you share it with your local residents? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering two communities $40,000 each to help figure that out.

Currently, environmental agencies evaluate air quality using stationary monitors that measure pollutants in a few locations selected to be representative of air quality in each metropolitan area. But new technology is rapidly developing that make the devices for measuring air quality less expensive – and portable. While they’re not yet suitable for regulatory use, these new sensors offer communities several benefits. People can use these sensors –which generally cost less than $2,000 — to easily collect highly localized, real-time data. In addition, low-cost sensors can become a part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), streaming data to the Internet so people can access it in real time. With this data, communities can harness analytical tools to understand local air pollution levels and their environment.

The Smart City Air Challenge invites communities to submit strategies that describe how they will deploy the sensors and manage the data. In order to qualify, a local government agency will need to partner with other parties that provide services, such as sensor manufacturers, data management agencies, environmental organizations, and citizen groups. Communities can range from neighborhoods to counties and tribes. Applications will have to describe the level of accuracy and precision of the sensors and how they will ensure these attributes.

Join the challenge today and use the power of big data and citizen science to understand local environmental conditions. The challenge launched on August 30 and applicants have until October 28 to submit their strategies. Winners will be announced in the fall of 2016. EPA will evaluate the strategies and award prizes of up to $40,000 each to two communities. After a year, EPA will evaluate the accomplishments and collaboration of the two communities and award up to an additional $10,000 to each community. To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website and submit applications by October 28.

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