Those summering in Paris can view, at a glance, just how refreshing the air they’re breathing is. Using sensors from Airparif, a French air-quality monitoring group, a company called Aérophile has installed a giant helium balloon thats color changes depending on the condition of the air around it. The balloon's color reflects ambient air quality and pollution caused by emissions from traffic. The color is calculated based on the concentrations of three contaminants: nitrogen dioxide, ozone and airborne particulates.

The balloon uses three projectors that set the color to fall on a spectrum between green and red. A rotating laser at its base displays traffic pollution on the lower half of the balloon. For a first-hand view (and whiff) of the air it’s measuring, the balloon can whisk 30 passengers at a time up into the air in its basket. The project’s web site, which is in French, includes a diagram of the balloon’s components.

A webcam gives the rest of us a glimpse of the Ile-de-France. That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t you rather see this in Beijing? Perhaps that would belabor the obvious.

Airparif, by the way, provides just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about French air quality and the factors that affect it. This includes daily traffic densities relative to a standard working day and emissions near traffic, broken down by the type of pollutant, allowing users to trace the relationship between changes in the amount of traffic and subsequent pollution.

For a Europe-wide comparison of air quality, check out Air Quality Now, a webservice that pulls together data from different cities into a central directory on air quality. Headed to Switzerland soon? Keep an eye on Zurich; in the wee hours of yesterday morning, the city seemed to be having a dust problem, with particulate matter well into the “very bad” part of the scale. [this all changes dynamically, so the dust I’m observing may be an anomaly.] Here’s more on what’s considered to be normal levels of pollution across Europe.


This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in July 2008.


Copyright Environ Press 2008