Urban Observatory monitors Newcastle with new generation of sensors03 August 2018

UK-based monitoring solutions provider, Air Monitors, is playing a key role in the UK’s first ‘Urban Observatory’, which has been designed to provide a digital view of how our cities work.

The company has supplied air quality monitoring equipment that has been deployed across Newcastle and Gateshead in conjunction with other instruments for monitoring parameters such as air and water quality, noise, weather, energy use, traffic and even tweets.

Forming part of a network of over 600 sensors, the Urban Observatory led by Newcastle University has already collected over half a billion data points and the information is now starting to shed light on the way different systems interact across the city and provide a baseline against which future cities can be developed and managed.

To-date Air Monitors has supplied 55 AQMesh pods and six conventional air quality monitoring stations. The conventional stations employ standard reference methods to measure key air quality parameters such as Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide and Particulates.

The AQMesh pods monitor similar parameters, but are smaller, solar-powered, wireless, web-enabled devices that can be quickly and easily located in almost any location.

Says Air Monitors MD Jim Mills: “This is a tremendously exciting project and we are delighted to have been chosen to supply much of the air quality monitoring equipment. The conventional stations are delivering precise, accurate data, and the AQMesh pods are providing the portability and flexibility to monitor air quality accurately and reliably in the locations of most interest.

“Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is its ability to engage with the community, providing detailed localised air quality information so that both the authorities and citizens can make informed decisions on how to reduce exposure to air pollution. Looking forward, it is clear that work in Newcastle will serve as a model for other cities around the world to follow.”

The National Observatories facility was established in 2017 with the Newcastle Urban Observatory as the founding member, supported by £8.5 million investment from EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

The AQMesh pods are also being used as part of the ‘Sense My Street’ tool box, which enables local people and communities to commission sensors and locate them on their streets, collecting evidence to inform or even change their communities.

In addition to AQMesh, the toolbox also includes the Fidas ‘Frog’ from Air Monitors – a portable battery powered dust monitor that is able to measure even the finest particulates that travel deepest into the lungs, and therefore represent the greatest threat to health.

As part of the project, schoolchildren carried a Fidas Frog to measure their exposure to (largely traffic-borne) particulate pollution during their journey to school in the Heaton area of Newcastle. The data is fed into the Urban Observatory to inform evidence-based decisions about the future development and management of the city.

Phil James, who co-leads the Urban Observatory research, explains: “Cities are complex environments and if we want to develop them sustainably we have to understand how everything interacts. By compiling observations and comparing the data, for the first time we are now able to make more informed decisions about designing our infrastructure and cities to work better for people and the environment."

All of the data is freely available at Newcastle University’s website: www.urbanobservatory.ac.uk, and is being used by researchers, local authorities, regulators, town planners, developers, businesses and members of the public.

Adam Offord

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