Did you know that bushfire smoke can make many health conditions worse? Research estimates that 400 people died from the impacts of bushfire smoke during the Black Summer bushfires alone.
To ensure all Australians have the information they need when it’s smoky and dangerous, the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research [Link will open in a new window]developed the AirRater app[Link will open in a new window].
A sure-fire way to improve air quality information
The AirRater app[Link will open in a new window] helps people by providing information about air quality and heat in their local area. With this information, you can make better decisions to protect your health or the health of those you care for. This is particularly important for people sensitive to the impacts of air pollution.
And, AirRater is a citizen science app[Link will open in a new window]. This means it’s fuelled by you! By contributing reports of smoke and health symptoms, users help scientists create a rich picture of where bushfire smoke is, and how it is affecting communities.
A recent upgrade to AirRater means that users, or citizen scientists, can now use AirRater to report smoke in their local area or in the distance. You can do this with a simple ‘see/smell smoke’ report button. You can also submit a photo of the smoke to help scientists record and understand where the smoke is.
And, you can now log any symptoms you are experiencing, such as wheezing, coughs or itchy eyes.
Both the symptom and smoke reports from AirRater, feed directly into a smoke visualisation system. This helps fire agencies and government departments better manage smoke and give more up-to-date health advice to communities.
The system does this by combining the citizen science reports from AirRater with readings from air quality monitors, and modelling data from our AQFx (air quality forecasting tool) smoke forecasting system. The more citizen science reports we have, the better our smoke information will be!
Join our AirRater app citizen scientist squad
More than 65,000 Australians are already using AirRater to monitor air quality in their area.
Importantly, an upgrade at the end of 2021 means the air quality readings in AirRater are now powered by our AQFx system. This is particularly important for Australians living far from air quality monitors. These citizens now have access to vastly improved estimates of smoke pollution during bushfires.
AirRater can also be a citizen science tool for heat. Darwin Living Lab[Link will open in a new window](a collaboration between us, the Australian and Northern Territory governments, and theCity of Darwin[Link will open in a new window]) and the Environmental Health research team at the University of Tasmania recently conducted a study. We asked Darwin's outdoor workforce to contribute to the app to help manage working outdoors and the risk of extreme heat, humidity and air pollution. This research is ongoing.
The Australian Government funded the 2021 AirRater upgrades and our national AQFx system. AirRater is also partially funded by the Tasmanian Department of Health, Australian Capital Territory Health and the Northern Territory Department of Health.