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The Ride: LA air pollution data gets hyperlocal thanks to Google Street View cars




Google Earth Outreach partnered with the San Francisco air pollution monitoring company Aclima to measure concentrations of diesel soot in five different LA neighborhoods.
Google Earth Outreach partnered with the San Francisco air pollution monitoring company Aclima to measure concentrations of diesel soot in five different LA neighborhoods.
Google

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Most people know about Google Street View, which gives Google Maps users panoramics of the world's roads. Maybe you've even seen some of Google's Street View vehicles roaming around L.A., with their huge cameras mounted high above the cars' roofs.

Well, some of them haven't only been mapping the city. They've been gathering hyper-local air pollution data - block by block by block - and some of that data became available for the first time Thursday.

For three months, two Google Street View cars equipped with air pollution sensors from the Bay Area company Aclima drove around L.A. Driving Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they measured concentrations of various pollutants, including diesel soot, within 500 meters of dozens of schools in five different LA neighborhoods, including Boyle Heights, North Long Beach, West L.A., Westchester and Wilmington. 

Of the areas tested, Boyle Heights had the highest concentrations of black soot near schools, according to the research, and that's because it's surrounded by freeways on all sides and is also near a lot of industrial and manufacturing facilities, which subject it to a lot of diesel emissions from trucks. West L.A. had the lowest levels of diesel soot in the areas that were tested, not only because it's less industrial but because of coastal air blown in from the water, according to Aclima.

Google Street View cars equipped with air pollution sensors measured diesel soot levels near L.A. schools.
Google Street View cars equipped with air pollution sensors measured diesel soot levels near L.A. schools.
Aclima

The study found that within neighborhoods, there's a huge amount of variability in air pollution from school to school and also from street to street - even from one end of a block to the other. And a lot of that has to do with wind, specifically how quickly wind blows through certain areas and in what direction, and some of that is influenced by the area's landscape, including the height and location of buildings, street designs, even plants.

"The power of the mobile platform is is that it allows us to have more granularity than we're getting from the established regulatory network," said Aclima chief scientist Melissa Lunden.