Operation Healthy Air

Photo © _maddish_

Over the next several months, Habitat Network will be working with Operation Healthy Air, an urban resiliency program run by Earthwatch to engage partners and participants in the greater Los Angeles area in mapping and measuring how differences in their environment–- such as trees or pavement, may affect local air quality and temperature. These maps, all 100square meters, might seem odd but, in fact, they are another great example of how Habitat Network can be used to collect data and answer important scientific questions. Below, you can find more information regarding the Operation Healthy Air project and learn how Earthwatch and other partner organizations are working to combat air pollution and urban heat.

air pollution

Photo © Chang'r

Two of the greatest threats to well-being in urban environments are the dramatic increases in extreme-heat days (i.e. days above 105F) and exposure to air pollutants, including particulates and ozone. These pollutants can present severe health risks, especially to those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.open_in_new

Bioswale on Columbus street in Manhattan.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

Creating healthy and resilient urban environments for all, including vulnerable communities where environmental conditions are especially problematic, is a high priority in many cities. Green spaces in urban environments are seen as one of the most valuable assets in combating both heat and air pollution. There are many known benefits from trees, bushes, and other plants, including increased coolingopen_in_new, better human health (e.g. through increased physical activity and cleaner air)open_in_new, and higher property values.open_in_new Unfortunately, people are often skeptical about investing in green space, whether it be their backyards, their streets, or parks, because trees require maintenance and resources (e.g. pruning and water), and their pollen, fruit, and leaves can be problematic with seasonal allergies, and clean-up maintenance.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.05.40 PM

Photo © Instant Vantage

Currently, public announcements notify people of extreme (heat, smog…) days with warnings to remain indoors or to seek cool shelters–but this information is often too general to be useful while making a myriad of daily decisions based on individual local conditions. The data used to generate such warnings does not reflect real variation in air temperature and pollution from house-to-house, or neighborhood-to-neighborhood. Making the right decision to stay in cool buildings or go outside is important, especially when considering some of our most vulnerable people (e.g. children, elderly, economically disadvantaged, health challenged) stand to suffer the most from the negative impacts of heat and air pollution.

The Conservancy’s LEAF and Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program interns, monitor trees impacted by Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The interns worked during the summer of 2015 to monitor the health of the city’s trees in the Bronx and Queens.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Karine Aigner)

Operation Healthy Air will develop a local citizen network of air sensors
Operation Healthy Air begins with local “campaigns” in Long Beach, Chino, and the Inland Empire, CA (e.g. Riverside and Redlands) in the summer of 2017, with a focus on air temperature and ozone, then expanding in 2018 to greater Los Angeles and other cities. Citizen scientists and scientists will deploy iButton temperature and air quality sensors throughout the targeted areas. Each sensor will have an associated Habitat Map (100m2) created by volunteers to record the local habitat around each sensor. The data can help reveal how different amounts of “green” (e.g. trees), “blue” (e.g. rivers, pools), and “grey” (e.g. buildings and pavement) environments influence local air quality and temperature. The goal is to use local measurements to create a more comprehensive picture of regional variation in air quality and temperature.

city view

Photo © Brad Davic, AICP

What Operation Healthy Air Hopes to achieve
Operation Healthy Air seeks to increase our understanding of the role that vegetation, such as trees, can play in decreasing air temperatures and improving air quality on a scale that communities use to make decisions – in this case, decisions about cooling local neighborhoods and reducing ozone formation. Also, by improving our collective understanding of the benefits of trees in urban environments, we hope to increase our knowledge and confidence on which species of trees to plant and where they will have the greatest influence in creating healthy urban environments.