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Scientists seek smoke sniffers

NIWA scientists are seeking help to sniff out smoke in a bid to help improve air quality in New Zealand.

After almost six weeks of monitoring air quality during Level 3 and 4 lockdown restrictions, scientist Dr Ian Longley is now asking people to record where and when woodsmoke is affecting their health and lives.

The easing of lockdown restrictions is coinciding with the onset of winter when wood smoke from home heating is beginning to affect air quality. This smoke is the biggest source of air pollution in New Zealand and is thought to seriously impact the health of many people. But many of its impacts go undetected or unrecognised, Dr Longley says.

That is why he and his colleagues have launched a project via the NIWA Citizen Science app to gather more information on how and when smoke is affecting people.

“What we want to do is use the information to better target NIWA’s research and to share it with regional councils so we can work with communities to reduce the impacts and keep Kiwis warm and healthy at home.”

Anyone interested can participate and are asked to download the NIWA Citizen Science App here:
Apple Store
Google Play Store
There are a number of NIWA citizen science initiatives under way via the app, but for this one participants should click Wood Smoke Survey.

People are then asked to answer some simple questions about what they can see or smell, how they are affected and how they rate the air quality.

Submitted data will be combined and converted into maps showing where clusters of impacts are occurring and when. At the end of winter NIWA scientists will analyse the data and publish the findings.

Dr Longley’s analysis of air quality during COVID-19 Level 4 restrictions found that pollution caused by traffic exhausts dropped dramatically in our main cities resulting in vastly improved air quality.

That air quality began to deteriorate when we shifted to Level 3 and Dr Longley expects further declines as we shift closer to pre-lockdown freedoms. But he also says it would not be surprising if more wood gets burnt at the moment with more people at home which would lead to more smoke in the air than usual.

“This is an ideal opportunity to use the app to record what’s happening around New Zealand and help us understand how we can best achieve healthy homes.”

The app is being used to support a major research initiative called Community Observation Networks for Air (CONA). CONA has been trialling the use of new technologies to enable communities to monitor and manage their own air quality.

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