“Looking back at this plot, it told us the scale of the air pollution, with elevated concentrations of fine particles spanning multiple states and territories,” Fabienne said.
“Even at this stage it was clear that to address the evolving catastrophe we needed a national-scale response.”
In many cases, the smoke has travelled long distances where fires aren’t present. For example, in Melbourne, which has experienced air quality pollution from Victorian and Tasmanian fires. Just a day earlier, on 20 December, smoke travelled approximately 200 km from a fire in the Oven’s Valley/Bright region to Melbourne.
Visible satellite image taken by Himawari-8 (left); AQFx combined fine particle forecast for Melbourne (right).
“This was the first time during the 2019-20 bushfires Melbourne experienced such a large amount of smoke,” Fabienne said.
“The plot is also interesting. It shows how the Alps formed a barrier to the smoke plumes from fires in the north and south of Victoria. And the AQFx forecast picked this up well.”
Quality air and quality data
Beyond the front line of tackling the fires, city residents are seeing hazardous air pollution. And they are relying on the latest air quality data to weigh up working from home, outdoor fitness, how to entertain young children indoors during the school holidays, or keeping pets happy and healthy.
Our science is helping to provide information to underpin some of these now-complicated choices. Data from air quality monitoring networks—which include some systems we operate—feed into the AirRater app. The University of Tasmania developed the app and it is available to the public.
Fabienne told us they designed the app to help those who are vulnerable to poor air quality.
“AirRater provides information on smoke concentrations. But you can also log symptoms of asthma, allergies and hayfever,” she said.
“AirRater gathers these and matches with environmental conditions at the time. Together building a big picture of potential environmental triggers.”
The AQFx team is working on a project currently to extend the platform to pollen forecasting.
We are also collaborating on a school-based citizen science program in Victoria to help fire managers broaden the smoke monitoring network. In 2017, we developed a curriculum and low-cost smoke DIY sensor package for Grade 6-8 students called ‘SMOG’ (Smoke Observation Gadget). Find out more about SMOG.
To find out more air quality information in your area, visit the below links.