PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When it comes to climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide and methane are the two biggest culprits. Yet beyond national, regional or state averages, many cities and towns don’t have the tools to capture clear data on how significantly these gases contribute directly to local air quality.
This has long been the case for Providence, Rhode Island — until now. A new, state-of-the-art sensor on
Brown University’s campus will ultimately help scientists, public officials and local community members get a better understanding of the air Rhode Islanders, and especially those in Providence, are breathing.
Installed in late October, the sensor recently began analyzing the air above Providence to continuously measure both methane and carbon dioxide, commonly referred to as CO2.
Previously, direct measurements on methane concentrations did not exist for Providence. Technically, neither did high-grade measurements on CO2, which came from instruments in Boston. That’s according to Meredith Hastings, a Brown professor of environment and society and Earth, environmental and planetary sciences who studies air pollution in the city and is leading the new effort.
“The idea here is to monitor both CO2 and methane much more locally both in real-time and over time,” Hastings said. “Being able to do this will help us understand our local air quality in terms of the major drivers and causes of pollution, so that we can potentially do something about it. The data we gather and share could also be a powerful tool in gauging whether we are meeting our sustainability goals on campus and, in the bigger picture, whether the city is reaching its own climate and carbon reduction goals.”
Hastings’ research team acquired the sensor with funds from a seed grant from Brown’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency and installed it atop the University’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library on Prospect Street. The group plans to display the real-time measurements from the new sensor publicly online sometime in the spring and will also provide support for data interpretation to those looking to understand or utilize the data.
Measurements from the new air quality sensor, which also monitors for water vapor, will help Hastings’ team calibrate 22 low-cost sensors they previously installed across the city as part of the Breathe Providence Project. Part of a global initiative supported by the Clean Air Fund, the project involves testing for seven pollutants across Providence neighborhoods, including CO2, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter such as dust, soot and smoke.