Smart station at NWU will monitor air quality and weather

Marelize Santana -- Tue, 10/08/2019 - 09:40

Smart station at NWU will monitor air quality and weather

Vanderbijlpark, a pollution hotspot, has been chosen as the location for a state-of-the-art observation station that will monitor both the weather and air quality.

This multi-million-rand development will see the North-West University (NWU) becoming the first higher education institution in the country to host a permanent monitoring station on site. This project is the brainchild of the School of Geo and Spatial Sciences in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

The observation station will contribute towards addressing the dire science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills shortage in the country, according to Emile Hoffmann, a lecturer and researcher within the Geography and Environmental Studies subject group.

While helping to grow the number of university STEM graduates, the project will strengthen the NWU’s ability to conduct relevant and impactful research in the field of environmental studies.

Research beacon in the Vanderbijlpark

What makes this project even more noteworthy is its positioning within the Vanderbijlpark region.

The campus is located on the banks of the Vaal Barrage – one of South Africa’s most polluted major water courses – and is right in the middle of an Air Pollution Priority Area (APPA). This is the perfect location for an observation station of this kind.

“When it comes to aspects such as air quality and pollution, areas within the region – including Emfuleni, Midvaal, Doornkop, Soweto, Diepkloof, Ennerdale, Orange Farm and Metsimaholo – are known for their environmental concerns,” says Emile.

He says the station will allow researchers to collect hard data and carry out continued measurements to support intervention programmes and encourage further scientific inquiry.

The team driving the observation station project is working alongside experts at the South African Weather Service (SAWS) to ensure optimal technical precision when it comes to the real-time bio-monitoring systems.

These systems will not only cover meteorological parameters such as rainfall, air temperature, wind speed and directions, but also selected priority parameters for characterising the air quality based on nearby sources of air pollution, as well as water level and quality, in the Vaal Barrage.

The beneficial long-term partnership between the NWU and SAWS will further see the following developments taking shape:

  • Opportunities for students to conduct their practical experience at the SAWS, as a future employer.
  • The initiation of postgraduate research projects on related topics co-supervised and co-selected by SAWS according to applied research needs.
  • International collaboration between South African observation networks and established global networks.

Data for knowledge sharing

Emile explains that a supportive smartphone app, SAAQIS*, will further contribute towards the impact of the station since it will allow users to access environmental monitoring data by the mere push of a button.

The station is envisioned to become part of the global network of monitoring stations by conforming to the standards of the World Meteorological Organisation. According to Emile, this will enable researchers from the NWU to share data collected with not only the general public but also the international scientific community.

* South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) app can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store and is compatible with all smartphone devices.

Emile Hoffmann