Pigeon Air Patrol to the rescue! Birds with backpacks track air pollution
It could seem like a bird-brained idea: relying on a team of pigeons to carry out scientific studies on air quality and air pollution.
But chances are, you’ve never seen a squad of pigeons wear backpacks quite like this.
Meet London’s Pigeon Air Patrol, a flock of “superbirds” measuring nitrogen dioxide in a city with some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.
Almost 9,500 people in the English capital die prematurely each year due to long-term exposure to polluted air, according to a report last year by King’s College London.
Globally, the number of air pollution-related deaths is closer to 7 million, a 2014 World Health Organization report said.
Most people are not aware of the fact that we’ve been seeing the direct results of air pollution right here in the Toronto area for many years. A large part of the services that City Duct Cleaning offers is cleaning and deodorizing rooftop HVAC units in commercial buildings, apartment buildings and condos throughout the GTA.
We’ve been noticing the increased amount of black soot on air filters, HVAC components, air ducts and all the way through the ducted HVAC systems that we often work on. Cleaning up this mess is a part of the commercial duct cleaning service that we provide.
We’ve been noticing this like crazy over the past 10 or more years. And its been getting worse!
These systems supply the air that we breathe. They often suck air directly from the outside and that air is filtered and partially conditioned before it is blown into a building’s duct system.
The problem with the filtration part of the process is that those air filters are often infrequently changed or are missing completely, and the quality of the air filters are often poor. It costs alot of money to filter the air properly and in most buildings they just don’t have the budget.
Worst-affected areas are along any major road now. We used to see the worst areas only along Yonge Street or very heavily- travelled roads like close to the 401. But the results of air pollution have become more evident all throughout the city. And this is what we have to breathe!
We can count ourselves lucky that there are so many dedicated people who are now studying air pollution and trying to help come up with positive solutions to this massive problem that will otherwise only get worse as time goes on.
Now a team of 10 trained pigeons is taking to the skies strapped with 25-gram sensors to measure the harmful emissions not always visible to the naked eye — and, rather aptly, are tweeting the results.
Londoners can ask their feathered friends to track nitrogen dioxide levels in their area by tweeting @PigeonAir. The clever creatures, with a little help from researchers at Plume Labs, will then tweet back their readings, ranging from “moderate” to “extreme.”
One of the pigeons — which have names such as Norber, Coco and Julius — will also be strapped with a GPS tracking device. A vet will be on hand to monitor the birds’ well-being over three days of flights.
The winged patrol was originally dreamed up by Pierre Duquesnoy and Matt Daniels of marketing agency DigitasLBi as part of Twitter’s #PoweredByTweets competition last year, winning the “Solve a Problem” category.
The patrol aims to boost a much larger campaign by Plume Labs to recruit 100 Londoners to carry out their own pollution monitoring — though this one will be on the ground.
The company has developed a portable sensor that participants will use to track emissions, building a live map of air quality across London.
To get the campaign literally off the ground,Plume Labs still needs to raise 10,000 ($14,000), and has so far raised half its target.
“Millions of people die every year around the world from air pollution — it’s basically a pandemic, but we have a hard time realizing this because it’s largely invisible,” Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs, told CNN.
“So the Pigeon Patrol has been about making the invisible, visible. And there’s a nice parallel there — we don’t always think about the fact we breathe about 20 (kilograms)of air every day.
“Much in the same way that pigeons themselves are all around us, and we rarely notice them.”
Though with their fancy new backpacks on, these pigeons will be hard to ignore — just keep them off the catwalk.