Fact – fifteen of the hottest years have come in the last sixteen years. If you are one of the people who is living through the heat waves and wondering if your asthma is really getting worse or if it’s just your imagination – well congratulations! You’re not alone and you are not imagining things.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine wanted to understand what happens to the air pollutants that trigger human health problems like asthma when heat waves occur simultaneously. In other words, if there is already air pollution does having a heat wave at the same time make the pollution worse? And if it does get worse, how badly does it affect people’s health?
In order to answer these questions, they overlaid detailed air pollution maps of the United States and Canada with meterological models and data about heat waves over a 15 year time period. The data was on a very fine 1 degree grid. What they found was that having both a heat wave and existing pollution resulted in higher levels of ozone and particulate matter that were present for several days as opposed to just a few hours without the heat wave. Since these are the pollutants that are most responsible for breathing problems in adults and children, having a warming climate and air pollution is really a double whammy where they are concerned.
This kind of analysis is fairly typical of how researchers and scientists use big data in clean tech – the large volume of data is overlaid on a GIS or other mapping system and algorithms and models about the environmental system concerned are combined with the data to answer the question. It’s an approach that needs skill in coding to build and extract these datasets as well as a deep understanding of the environmental processes in play.