The world's air pollution, mapped in real time. Air Quality Index China

A new interactive map draws data from more than 5,900 sources in nearly a thousand cities around the globe.

Worldwide, outdoor air pollution causes more than 3 million premature deaths each year. While some cities have already reached hazardous levels of air pollution—such as Delhi, India, with smog practically covering the city daily—others are coming dangerously close. This is according to a new interactive map detailing most of the world’s air quality with real-time data.

The map comes from Beijing-based environmental group Air Quality Index China, which worked with environmental protection agencies in more than 70 countries. It continuously collects data from more than 5,900 feeds coming from more than 8,000 air-quality-monitoring stations in nearly a thousand cities. Only feeds from government agencies are used, according to the website (“no DIY or amateur monitoring stations data” here). The map refreshes every 15 minutes.

Air quality ranges from “good” to “hazardous” on the U.S. EPA’s AQI index. (Air Quality Index China)

Each city’s reading on the map is based on the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and rated on the U.S. EPA’s 0-500 Air Quality Index scale, which grades air according to how it affects public health. Studies have long linked smog to a slew of health concerns, from increased risk of heart attack to impaired cognitive development to respiratory problems.

A quick glance reveals the stark contrast between China and the United States. In China, most cities hover around the “unhealthy” zone, with some cities in the northern part of the country falling into the “very unhealthy” category. Zoom in on Beijing and you can see that for the past two days, the air quality index has fluctuated between 175 and 216.

(Air Quality Index China)

Meanwhile in the U.S., the air quality is mostly in the “good” zone, with some southern cities falling into the yellow “moderate” category. According to the map, the city that’s recorded the worst air quality at the time of this writing is Buffalo, New York, which had an AQI of 126.

(Air Quality Index China)

Mapping real-time updates can help officials understand how far pollution has spread from a particular city, and put adequate pollution-reducing policies in place before the air reaches “hazardous” levels.

However, the map isn’t complete. Right now, the map includes major cities in developing countries, including Delhi, India—which recorded an AQI of 317—and Sao Paulo, Brazil. But it still lacks data for much of Africa, South America, and the Middle East. That’s a problem, considering developing countries in these regions are rapidly urbanizing and starting to see dangerously high levels of air pollution.

In Nigeria, for example, as much as 94 percent of the population breathes air with pollution levels that exceed what the World Health Organization deems safe, reported Quartz. But AQICN says that it’s working to increase its coverage and aims to gather data from 10 to 20 percent more stations every year.

You can see the full interactive map here.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  2. A photo of shoppers on University Avenue in East Palo Alto, California, which is flanked by two technology campuses.
    Equity

    An Island of Silicon Valley Affordability Says Yes to More Housing

    East Palo Alto is surrounded by tech riches, but that hasn’t necessarily helped longtime residents, who welcome a state law mandating zoning reform

  3. A new map of neighborhood change in U.S. metros shows where displacement is the main problem, and where economic decline persists.
    Equity

    From Gentrification to Decline: How Neighborhoods Really Change

    A new report and accompanying map finds extreme gentrification in a few cities, but the dominant trend—particularly in the suburbs—is the concentration of low-income population.

  4. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.

  5. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.