CurieuzeNeuzen: measuring air quality

Logo CurieuzeNeuzenCurieuzeNeuzen Vlaanderen is a citizen science project in which 20.000 citizens measure the air quality near their own house.

The aim is to acquire a detailed map of air quality in Flanders (the northern region of Belgium), both in cities as well as on the countryside. CurieuzeNeuzen Vlaanderen is the largest citizen science project on air quality to date.



20.000 citizen scientists

Gevelbord curieuzeneuzenParticipants will install a simple, standardized measurement device on a window of their house, apartment or building, that faces the street. Two diffusion tubes will determine the mean concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the ambient air over one month (May 2018). The samplers are attached to a real estate panel to arrive at a standardized measurement procedure. NO2 is an important indicator for traffic pollution. The data collected from the diffusion samplers are quality controlled and calibrated with NO2 measurements at reference monitoring stations operated by the Flemish Environment Agency.

Big data

The large dataset collected by CurieuzeNeuzen Vlaanderen will be used to test the state-of-the-art ATMOSYS computer model (developed by VITO for the Flemish Environment Agency) that is currently used to assess the air quality in Flanders. By improving the predictive capabilities of this model, we will arrive at a better estimation of the population exposure to NO2, and its effects on public health, allowing to provide better information and recommendations to policy makers.

Air quality can vary significantly over short distances, especially due to street canyon effect (pollutants accumulate to higher concentrations in narrow, poorly ventilated streets with intense traffic density). Because air quality is that spatially variable, many measurements locations are required to properly assess the predictive capacity of the air quality model. This is why the help from citizens is extremely valuable to gather “big data” on the spatial distribution of air quality .

The same strategy for collecting “big data” on air quality by citizens was already successfully tested at a smaller scale in CurieuzeNeuzen Antwerpen project in 2016. This campaign involved 2.000 citizens, which mapped the street-to-street variability in NO2  across the city of Antwerp (500.000 inhabitants). This campaign project demonstrated that citizens can collect excellent large-scale air quality datasets (given a standardized measurement protocol and sufficient data quality assurance).

Citizen science projects not only target the collection of “hard ”datasets that make science progress, but also have a “softer” side, as they can providing information the general public and raise awareness. In the latter regard, CurieuzeNeuzen Vlaanderen aims to increase the public awareness of the importance of air quality for a healthy environment, and wants stress the need and importance of performing reliable measurements on air quality.

The project is scientifically coordinated by prof. dr. ir. Filip Meysman from the Department of Biology and the Institute of Sustainable Development (IMDO) of the University of Antwerp. Several researchers from the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) contribute their expertise in the measurement and modelling of air quality. The Research Institute for Work and Society  (HIVA- KU Leuven) investigates the public awareness and social context. The newspaper De Standaard helps organising the distribution of the measurement kits and is responsible for the recruitment campaign and communication with the general public.