We posted about the European Space Agency's Global Monitoring for Environment & Security (GMES) program back in November, 2004. The program is intended to put useful satellite information about Earth's environment in the hands of citizens. The initial focus was on mapping land use and agriculture, but the ESA has now come up with an altogether different application.
YourAir is a project providing air quality forecasts in great geographic detail, down to the street level. It currently serves London as a prototype, but if successful, will be expanded to other European cities. Forecasts are made for particulate, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone pollution. Last month, the service added a new feature: pollution warnings sent via SMS to mobile phones.
A linked project called airTEXT involves sending a text message to the mobile phones of a thousand vulnerable individuals during the evening before days when air pollution may be moderate or high. The message will also advise on steps they can take to minimise their pollution exposure and manage their symptoms.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. In April, Vodafone Germany announced a service to send SMS text to customers alerting them to high pollen counts. As with YourAir, the alert isn't about current conditions, but forecast conditions for the next day.
YourAir combines satellite information with traffic info and local monitoring stations. Pollution forecasts have so far been about 90% accurate, a rate which should improve as more stations and more satellites are brought into the system.
As with Polleninfo, YourAir is a foreshadowing of what will become possible in the next few years. Monitoring systems are getting smaller and cheaper all the time, and citizens are becoming more aware of the effects of pollution and allergens in the air. Soon, forecasts will be supported with real-time alerts, and regional information will be combined with location-aware messages. Such a system would be very useful in the case of outbreaks of diseases (or episodes of bioterror), where a sufficiently-swift alert sent to one's phone could make a big, big difference.