Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) recently updated how it communicates daily air quality via its website and Weibo account. Shanghai has one of the best websites for accessing information about air quality, including real-time pollution data in pollutant concentrations and Air Quality Index (AQI) readings. They also give you a bar chart of AQI readings for the past week or so. You can even access historical AQI data for PM10, SO2, and NO2.
But by far my favorite innovation Shanghai’s EPB has made so far is in the use of this little air quality mascot to communicate what the various levels of pollution on the normalized AQI index mean. For the most part, things take a sour turn for AQI girl (let’s just call her that, I’m not sure if she has an official name) after the Good (51-100) part of the range. I like how they coordinated her hair color with the official color codes of different pollutant thresholds – it’s a great way for people to automatically remember and understand what the different colors mean. AQI girl also provides a much more people and user-friendly means to calculate air quality, as opposed to other cartoon characters or anime figures that they could gone with.
Comparing the daily PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) microblogs with the previous version, there are some definite improvements, along with AQI girl: the AQI color codes are integrated along with the AQI PM2.5 readings for Shanghai’s 10 stations. They also provide the concentration data in micrograms/cubic meter below (the straight line with the circles) over a 24-hour averaged period. They also provide some text explaining what the AQI is, what pollutants it measures, and what the various thresholds (“excellent,” “good,” etc.) mean. It’s a huge improvement in terms of making the information much more accessible than the previous version. Other EPBs could really take a cue from what Shanghai’s done.
Left: the previous version of daily PM 2.5 Weibo communications from Shanghai EPB’s official weibo account. Right: the new version, as of mid-November, 2012.
I can only imagine next will come a video game for AQI girl that will feature her navigating Shanghai’s polluted streets, having to dodge roadside exhaust coming from tailpipes, all the while remembering to wear her face mask when she sees AQI readings above 150.