Air quality scientists look for smoke signals

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With winter fast approaching, NIWA’s air quality scientists are returning to Rangiora for the second stage of a research project that is set to revolutionise how communities can measure and control pollution.

Last year scientists installed and tested new hi-tech sensors in 14 Rangiora homes during September to detect when people were using their woodburners.

ODIN outdoor air quality monitor.

The results are now in and each participant in the trial phase has received an information pack with detailed information about the air quality in their home, temperature variations and dust peaks. Overall the scientists found that while it was easy to detect when a woodburner was lit, it was much harder to tell when the fire had stopped burning.

There were also big differences between homes, with some people lighting and boosting fires a lot and others lighting only once a day.   This kind of information has not been available before so the researchers now want to collect more data about the impact that has on indoor and outdoor air quality.

New sensor technology

NIWA air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley said the new sensor technology trialled last year has the potential to provide lots of new and valuable information.

“This year we are planning to do some follow up testing with our existing participants as well as recruit more people in Rangiora to help us out. What we learn this year will then enable us to progress to a much larger study, perhaps in other towns, in 2017,” he said.

NIWA has developed the indoor state-of-the-art monitoring technology contained in small and low cost units. These units contain sensors for particles (dust, smoke or soot) and carbon dioxide and can detect sudden increases in the levels of particles in the air.

The indoor data was combined with data from temporary weather stations set up around Rangiora, and from 6 of NIWA’s experimental outdoor air quality sensors placed around the town to determine whether different parts of the town had different air quality and how that varies from day to day and place to place.

Dr Longley says the units could make a huge difference to our understanding of what causes air quality problems.

“We suspect this could be a game changer in being able to identify problems and their causes and enable communities to work more constructively with councils on devising solutions.”

Further information:

www.niwa.co.nz/cona

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Air Quality Scientist
Smoke from a domestic log burner. [Dave Allen]