Using drones to measure the relationship between urban air pollution, pollution sources, and vegetation in Seattle

Recent UW research that has identified high concentrations of ultrafine particle air pollution in some Seattle/King County communities has created an urgent need to evaluate the potential efficacy of community-scale air pollution mitigations, including the role that vegetation may play in reducing air pollution. Few studies have considered how trees and shrubs affect ultrafine air pollution, and most have focused on reductions in particles in the horizontal direction to the side of freeways from roadway traffic particle sources, rather than the distributions of particles in vertical and horizontal directions relevant to both roadway and aircraft-sourced particles. We have formed an interdisciplinary team of UW investigators, which includes expertise from Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Atmospheric Sciences to tackle this challenge and to fill this important knowledge gap for our local communities.

With new funding from UW Earthlab, and in partnership with air quality, health, and community stakeholders, we propose to conduct a study that will utilize an unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) – a drone instrumented with high-end air quality sensors, which will allow for efficient measurements at varying altitudes at sites identified by our partners that differ in vegetation density and type and proximity to ultrafine particle sources. Findings from this study will provide local and highly relevant evidence on the effectiveness of urban planning initiatives that may utilize greenery as an approach to address particulate air pollution. Additionally, the results would potentially inform future intervention studies that monitor air pollution changes that occur as a result of planting vegetation, which are starting to occur in cities across the country.

The Reasearch Team and Community Stakeholders on this project include:

Edmund Seto, UW Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Tim Larson, UW Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Civil & Environmental Engineering
David Shean, UW Civil & Environmental Engineering
Joel Thornton, UW Atmospheric Sciences

El Centro de la Raza
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
WA Department of Ecology
WA Department of Health

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