Top 3 Ways To Measure Air Pollution

Air pollution which is known as the release of pollutants in the atmosphere in an amount that is harmful to life and the environment in general has become a major problem in recent decades.

Therefore, the need to measure the quality of air in a region cannot be underestimated as this helps to know the level of pollution caused by pollutants and in the process, necessary air quality information is been relayed to the public so that people can modify their behavior to stay healthy.

What is Air Pollution Measurement?

Air pollution measurement is the process of obtaining and measuring the components of air pollution, which are gases and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10.  In the past, rain gauges, and deposit gauges (dust collectors) have been used to measure acid rain and dust respectively.

However, in recent times, the measurement of air pollution is largely automated giving birth to different ways to measure air pollution, and have been carried out using many different devices and techniques.

These range from simple absorbent test tubes known as diffusion tubes to highly complex physical and chemical sensors which gives rise to real-time pollution measurements, that are used to generate air quality indexes.

Why Do We Measure Air Pollution?

On a daily and hourly basis around the world, the quality of air is been measured with automated continuous monitors. Which provides data that are used in different ways, for example, to assess how the Air Quality Action Plan is progressing, and to examine the impact on air quality on changes that occur in a new building, such as a supermarket, that may attract lots of vehicles and road connection.

The information obtained from air pollution measurements can also be used by health experts to ascertain the impacts of the polluted air on the health of individuals living in such areas.

Furthermore, the quality of the air around us is of utmost importance for a variety of reasons. Not only does it have a direct effect on human health which can be both short-term and long-term, but it can also impact the survival of the plants (flora) and animals (fauna) with which we share the planet.

However, highly polluted air can increase the process of global warming and go a long way in contributing to climate change. To this effect, governments of different countries around the world have introduced their Air Quality Indexes (AQIs), which are systems set up to monitor and report daily on ambient air quality in real-time by factoring in the level of pollution in the air.

Top 3 Ways to Measure Air Pollution.

The importance of measuring air pollution is seen in the impact pollutants have on human health, the environment, and the economy. By obtaining and assessing the extent of air pollution through timely, accurate data, policies and standards can be promulgated, control strategies can be assessed, and research and models can be supported to mitigate the negative effects of pollutants for a sustainable environment because we have only one planet.

The question remains, how do we go about gathering information on air pollution? Listed below are the top three ways we can measure air pollution in the environment.

  • Fixed Automated Monitoring Stations
  • Satellites
  • Mobile Measuring Instrument

1. Fixed Automated Monitoring Stations

These are large, the government stationed automatic monitoring machines which are situated in fixed locations, which has higher concentrations of gases, these areas are places where exposure to harmful pollutants is more likely for example the Environmental Monitoring station Victoria in United states which monitors ambient air quality in Victoria since 1979.

However, while air quality regulations vary from country to country, these stations all measure the major pollutants that hurt human health which is in alignment with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Raw data on air pollutants from these stations is obtained and presented in a comprehensible form known as an air quality index (AQI), which is displayed on the government’s website.

Advantages of Fixed Automated Measuring Stations

  • It is highly accurate
  • The data obtained and presented is highly reliable
  • It runs 24 hours on daily basis.

Disadvantages of Fixed Automated Measuring Stations

  • It is expensive to purchase and set up the process
  • The station requires regular maintenance to function adequately thereby requiring a strong staff supporting system.
  • It is expensive to operate.
Fixed Automated Measuring Station

2. Satellites

It might sound contrary, however, one of the most effective ways of addressing issues of global air pollution challenges on Earth is from outer space. By taking advantage of space science and using satellites in orbit around our planet, a detailed picture of the contaminants present in our atmosphere can be built with the aid of satellites.

In particular, these instruments can measure amounts of particulate pollution, as well as ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, and other major contaminants. The prediction of air pollution through imaging from space satellites plays an important role.

Two important examples of satellite monitoring systems include the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R), both of which are operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R is capable of measuring pollution concentrations at five-minute intervals, while the Joint Polar Satellite System provides a much higher resolution of air quality once a day.

Advantages of Satellites

  • It covers the globe and gives free access to technical data for example the sentinel-5P, which is capable of mapping the globe daily and contributes to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which gives information on worldwide air pollution, solar energy, health, climate forcing and greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Disadvantages of Satellites

  • It has low resolution
  • Time delay is seen in data transmission.
Satellite 🛰

3. Mobile Measuring Instrument

Moving vehicles such as trucks and airplanes that are equipped with the appropriate instruments can be used to measure air pollution. Compared to automated monitoring stations it is a flexible and cost-effective means to measure air pollution in regions, especially in communities and rural areas that cannot afford the fixed automated monitoring stations.

Advantages of Mobile Measuring Instrument

  • If handled properly by an experienced environmentalist is highly accurate the result obtained

Disadvantages of Mobile Measuring Instrument

  • The emission released from the vehicles used are not taken into consideration
  • They are expensive similar to the fixed automated monitoring station.
  • High cost of maintenance
  • They are not driven all day as the operator may get tired and need to rest so pollution that occurs during those hours is not considered.
  • Also, the use of airplanes for air pollution includes low resolution and near real-time data transmissions.
Mobile Measuring Instrument

Other Ways to Measure Air Pollution

Some other ways of measuring air pollution include

  • The use of Passive collectors
  • The use of Air Quality Sensors

i. The use of Passive collectors

These are inexpensive, portable, portable, and compact air pollutant sampling devices. It is used to determine baseline air pollution concentrations over a set period which ranges from 8 hours to one month.

They are not electrically driven and at such cheap to use in a proposed area for assessment. However the supply data only for the period of test, which gives rise to temporal resolution

ii. The use of Air Quality Sensors

Sensors can be installed both indoors and outdoors due to their low cost and convenient nature. Air pollution is only an outdoor environmental issue, it can still increase the alarming level of pollutants in buildings, which requires sensors to be installed indoors to also measure the quality of air in a building.

These days, sensors all have smart and cloud capacities, which make it easy to track pollutant levels on any wifi-enabled device.  These devices tend to be cost-effective and compactable, however, if not handled properly as a result of aging and drifting they might present inaccurate data.

Air Pollution Measurement Instruments

1. FEM-capable ozone module: Helps one to confirm ozone attainment, and provides accurate measurements of ozone in the air over a wide range which extends from parts per billion by volume to an upper limit of 100 parts per million.

FEM-capable ozone module

2. Black Carbon Module: Used to indicate a harmful component of particulate matter.

Black Carbon Module

3. Node-S: This measures PM2.5, PM1, PM10 and NO2


4. Wind Module: Detects the direction where the air pollution is coming from.

Wind Module

5. Laminar Smart Air Quality Monitoring System: This is ideal for real-time monitoring of criteria pollutants, particulate matter, noise level, weather parameters, and other gaseous contaminants.

Laminar Smart Air Quality Monitoring System


The rate of air pollution is becoming worrisome and therefore needs urgent redress. It is becoming a major factor in the quality of life of urban and rural dwellers and it poses risk to both human health and the environment.

Therefore, it is important to carry out a constant routine check on the level of pollution in the atmosphere to know when the pollution has exceeded the permissible limit and without hesitation seek an adequate environmental solution. Governments, businesses, and individuals can all help in minimizing air pollution. Reducing emissions from vehicles and the levels of pollutants in the atmosphere may improve the quality of the air.


Environmental Consultant at Environment Go! | + posts

Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.

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