Back in 2011, a team of volunteers crammed Geiger counters into bento-shaped boxes to map the radiation following the Fukushima meltdown. It turned into the biggest collection of radiation data in history. Next up: tackling air pollution.
The nonprofit, formed one week after the March 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake to map Fukushima radiation, is called Safecast. To date, it has now gathered 32 million data points around the world using 800 sensors, making the biggest project of its kind in history.
Independent and apolitical, it’s based mostly in Tokyo, but the once small team has grown to include over 100 global volunteers. The data Safecast initially collected gave Japan’s citizens a more informed idea of where radiation existed.
Now, the organization is looking to use the same mapping technologies to fight other environmental problems worldwide. Safecast won a $400,000 grant from the Knight Foundation in 2012 to map air pollution in big cities around the world. Since then, it’s been collaborating with the likes of MIT Media Lab and Google to work on air sensors that can track greenhouses gases like methane.
What makes Safecast data different from government-reported data? Safecast says theirs is more detailed and consistent. Radiation readings can differ by just crossing the street, and the organization says that some countries release radiation ratings for entire cities based on one reading.
A lot of those readings are taking from rooftops, but Safecast volunteers use sensors as close to heights of one meter as possible. They also strive to be as granular as possible, collecting data street by street. The findings are shared, free, via an iOS app. All data is placed as public domain under Creative Commons Zero.
Safecast has been kicking some serious butt in the name of making environmental data publicly available for free. According to its March 2015 project update on Medium: