US: Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit organisation, recently unveiled interactive online maps showing natural gas leaks beneath the streets of Boston, Indianapolis and New York City’s Staten Island.
These maps constitute the first phase of a pilot project developed using specially equipped Google Street View mapping cars, under a partnership between EDF and Google Earth. The partnership was forged to explore the potential of new sensing and analytical technologies to measure environmental indicators and to make that information more accessible to everybody.
The maps were created using three Google Street View cars specially equipped with sophisticated methane sensing technology. EDF and researchers at Colorado State University spent two years experimenting with the system and developing analytical tools to not only locate, but also accurately assess the amount of gas escaping from even small leaks detected amid 15 million individual readings collected over thousands of miles of roadway.
Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager for Google Earth Outreach, said, “This pilot project is meant to explore and understand the potential for EDF and others to map and visualize important environmental information in ways that help people understand both problems and solutions.”
“Until now, these smaller leaks have not been a priority in most places. Yet we can see from these maps just how much they can add up,” said Mark Brownstein, EDF Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel for Natural Gas. “By pulling vast amounts of information together in a place that offers simple, clickable visualization, the platform is going to be an important advocacy tool, one that helps shift resources to an area of historic underinvestment.”
EDF and Google Earth Outreach will be mapping methane leaks in more cities as part of the current project, and they are also exploring the potential of mapping other air pollutants in the future. The EDF algorithms will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper later this year, and made available on an open-source basis.