Berkeley air-network project recognized by White House

Winky Wong/File
Winky Wong/File

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The White House recognized an upcoming collaboration between a UC Berkeley air-monitoring project and a public media platform for its goals in advancing the Climate Data Initiative, a presidential effort to amass information about climate change.

The Berkeley Atmospheric CO2 Observation Network and a community climate journal founded in Colorado will combine their efforts to make climate issues more tangible to the public with the official launch of their partnership scheduled for February of next year.

Led by campus chemistry and earth and planetary sciences professor Ronald Cohen, the campus’s observation network records atmospheric gases with a network of air sensors placed around the Bay Area. At each site is a node that contains sensors for different gases, temperature, pressure and relative humidity.

The team first started setting up nodes in 2012 and currently has them at 20 different sites.

Sensors collect data every five seconds and measure various gases, including carbon dioxide. Alexis Shusterman, a graduate student in Cohen’s group, said discrepancies from the average level of emissions can be viewed as “spikes,” such as those during vehicle rush hour. Those peaks, she said, can help pinpoint when and where emissions are the highest.

“By having all these sensors that can sort of keep track of the spikes, it can really help regulate climate change and air quality to have that higher-resolution picture,” Shusterman said.

The online journal iSeeChange, a compilation of observations, amasses an almanac of information from community members. The project uses crowdsourcing and encourages residents to create an account and post entries about their observed environment, ranging from rain levels to animal sightings.

Founder Julia Drapkin said she hopes bringing together quantitative data from UC Berkeley using her crowdsourcing structure will serve the next generation and reveal patterns in environmental changes.
“We can really, truly keep track of things over time,” she said. “Our terms of knowing what normal is when normal is changing all the time — there is no normal.”

Drapkin kicked off the project after being frustrated by the lack of available data on the impact of climate change while working as a science journalist in Washington, D.C. She wanted to “start the conversations between citizens and scientists” and reverse the process of dense research reports trickling down from scientists to the everyday citizen.

Through press and word of mouth, the database of users naturally expanded to include those from around the world. With qualitative data from the community journal and quantitative data from the campus, the collaboration aims to make information about climate change more accessible to the public.

Contact Heyun Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.

A previous version of this article stated that iSeeChange is based in Colorado. In fact, it was founded in Colorado but is no longer based there.