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Making the invisible visible with Ran Korber, CEO and Co-founder of BreezoMeter

The COVID-19 pandemic has started to make us much more acutely aware of the quality of the air we breathe. People are starting to demand greater transparency when it comes to gaining access to all types of air quality data.

One of the companies leading the way is BreezoMeter, who provide real-time air quality information including air pollution, pollen, and active fire intelligence. Their data has inputs from more than 47,000 sensors worldwide, as well as meteorological data, satellite information, active fires, sandstorms, traffic, and connected cars. 

As part of our report, 2020: Our Air in Review, we spoke to CEO, Ran Korber, to find out more about how they are helping billions of people worldwide to reduce their exposure to air pollution.

You provide real-time air quality data, which is essential when it comes to accurate wildfire reporting. What challenges do wildfires pose for air quality providers?

Live air quality reporting through a wildfire can be very challenging and being in the wrong area can yield dire health consequences for those most at risk from smoke exposure. Sources of air quality information worldwide are growing but many providers still rely heavily on the information provided by government monitoring stations. As a result, wildfires pose significant air quality reporting challenges for many of these providers. 

Government sensors are extremely accurate at their precise location but there can be huge distances between the location of the stations, affecting the reliability of air quality information when no station is available. As fire smoke moves so unpredictably, it gets frequently missed by monitoring stations.

Not all stations report every pollutant, including particulate matter, which means that these stations will not reflect the high air pollution levels at the time of the fire. The information provided by government station sensors is usually reported as averages over time. This is extremely reliable and accurate for their original purpose – for regulatory planning and trends over time – but can be dangerously misleading during times of erratic air pollution changes. When air quality information gets delivered as an average over time, real-time exposure to rapidly moving smoke frequently goes unreported.

In addition to the usual delays and coverage issues associated with station-only reporting methods, station sensors themselves can become damaged during a wildfire outbreak, causing them to fail to report accurately or not to report at all. During a blackout, station sensors can also stop reporting information altogether (this happened during the California wildfires of 2019 and again in June 2020 during the huge Arizona wildfire). 

How have you overcome these challenges to provide such accurate and comprehensive data?e you overcome these challenges to provide such accurate and comprehensive data?

BreezoMeter’s multi-data and multi-model approach means we’re uniquely placed to provide accurate information even when sensor information or one data layer becomes unavailable. We factor information from numerous data sources such as real-time traffic satellites, active fires, meteorological input, and more. 

In order to ensure accurate wildfire reporting and reliable wildfire smoke maps, we also use a sophisticated smoke model:

  • Satellites that measure different light bandwidths to detect the presence of fire on earth, the stage of a fire & type of particulate matter that is emitted
  • Land cover information to understand the type of vegetation that is being burned 
  • Meteorological conditions like rain and wind to learn about the direction and amount of smoke in a particular area 
  • Chemical processes that might alter the types of pollutant, and pollutant levels downwind of a fire

People can now access your data through the Yahoo Weather app as well as the Apple Weather app: what does this mean for people around the world?

There are now far more people that have access to accurate, real-time air quality data, and can make healthier decisions based on this information. And it is as easy as opening up your phone, or checking the weather – all activities that we habitually do anyway throughout the day. 

The other way to see it is that those who have been less aware of the air they breathe, or how much their health is affected by exposure to air pollution, will now see a very personal reading of the air quality around them, perhaps prompting small changes in daily living to increase exposure to healthier air.

It is also worth mentioning that the Yahoo partnership came on the heels of a great many requests from Yahoo Weather App users for air quality data. More and more people want to track the air that they are breathing. This is not something that we have knowledge about when it comes to Apple, but it can be understood that investing in the air quality feature is a sign of the times and the users.

As air quality data becomes more accessible we can start to manage our exposure to poor air quality. Do you think it will become more commonplace for people to use this data to avoid pollution?

This follows the above answer. Awareness about the air around us increased. Whether this is due to changes in environmental events, such as worsening fire and pollen seasons, or the pandemic, or just better education, people are beginning to understand that the air they breathe has an effect on their health, and moreover that being aware of what is in the air empowers them to make healthier decisions.

A great example of this is knowing when to open the window. When it comes to the indoor-outdoor connection of pollution exposure, we live on a continuum. What is the benefit of opening the window to clear out the indoor air if the air quality is poor on any given day? On the reverse, knowing that there is poor pollution outdoors, one can make the decision to close the windows and turn on their filtration system or product.

Download 2020: Our Air in Review, to read more interviews and discover findings from our latest research.