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Citizen science: detecting air pollution from wood smoke

How is smoke from wood-burning affecting you, your home or your neighbourhood? 
Credit: Dave Allen, NIWA

Wood smoke from home heating is the biggest source of air pollution in New Zealand and is thought to seriously impact the health of many people. But many of its impacts are subtle and go undetected, unreported or unrecognised. 

Through the NIWA Citizen Science App, we are inviting New Zealanders to record data on where and when woodsmoke is affecting their health and lives. This information will be used to better target NIWA’s research, and shared with regional councils, so we can work together with communities to reduce these impacts while keeping kiwis warm and healthy at home.

Do COVID-19 restrictions impact this project?

We know that air pollution can worsen respiratory disease. With many people at home most of the day at the moment, it would not be surprising if more wood gets burnt leading to more smoke than usual in our air. 

With the lockdown making us more conscious of the healthiness of our indoor environment, it’s an ideal opportunity to use the app to record what’s happening around New Zealand and to help us understand how we can best achieve healthy homes.

How and when do I use the app?

Download the NIWA Citizen Science app here:

There are a number of NIWA citizen science initiatives underway that you can explore through the app.

For this one, click Wood Smoke Survey.

This enables you to submit a report by answering some simple questions. You can submit a report whenever you like, and as often as you like – it takes less than a minute.

What data does the app record and how will it be used?

Your report covers four themes related to woodsmoke pollution:

  1. What you are doing (e.g. heating your home, exercising).
  2. What you can sense (see or smell).
  3. What you feel (symptoms, annoyance).
  4. What you think (how you rate air quality). 

The app also records your general location (but not your address) and the time. 

Data from all the people using the app will be combined and converted into maps showing where clusters of impacts are occurring and when. Data will also be merged with regional council air quality and weather monitoring data (for those towns that have it) to see if clusters can be explained. 

At the end of the winter we will analyse all data will publish the findings. 

What else is NIWA doing regarding woodsmoke pollution and can I get involved?

The app is being used to support a major research initiative called Community Observation Networks for Air (CONA). Begun in 2015, CONA is trialling the use of new technologies to enable communities to monitor and manage their own air quality. 

CONA adopts a few towns each winter to conduct intensive fieldwork and in some cases will seek local volunteers to participate in air improvement experiments, measurements, surveys and other activities. We are particularly interested in working with schools.

Under the current COVID-19 restrictions these projects are largely on hold. As soon as restrictions are lifted we will announce where we will be seeking volunteers this year.

NIWA Contacts

Principal Scientist - Air Quality
Page last updated: 
8 June 2020
Research subject: Air Quality