Copernicus Masters Finalist: TRACE – Tool for Recording and Assessing the City Environment

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Eloise Marais is an Associate Professor in Earth Observations at University of Leicester and is one of our three finalists in our Copernicus Masters Data Visualisation Challenge. Her project is working to convert Earth observations of atmospheric composition and vegetation into user-friendly products. Her tool, called TRACE (Tool for Recording and Assessing the City Environment), will be designed to augment existing services provided by environmental consultants and used by city planners to monitor air quality and green spaces in cities. Below, you can hear about her idea and why she entered the competition in her own words.

Exposure to air pollution is associated with reduced cognition, dementia and 9 million premature deaths worldwide. The health benefit of access to viable green spaces is valued at £2.2 billion in England alone. The UK routinely experiences degraded air quality and faces fines of up to £300 million for exceeding air quality standards. The monitoring networks, emission and green space inventories, and computational tools needed to develop effective policies and mitigation strategies are patchy, under validated, and costly and laborious to maintain.

Earth observations are the only viable solution to address these shortcomings. Earth observations of air pollutants and vegetation health are free to access and provide global and long-term coverage, but are cumbersome to use and require advanced expertise. I, a Harvard trained scientist and NERC-funded Researcher In Residence at Satellite Applications and Future Cities Catapults, am developing the Tool for Recording and Assessing the City Environment (TRACE). TRACE is a big data transformation platform and interpretation service to convert Earth observations into vital information about air quality and urban health that local authorities, national agencies, environmental consultants, and other stakeholders can use at low cost to measure and understand rapid and long-term changes in air pollution and green space health in cities.

My team and I are working in partnership with potential end users, Birmingham City Council and the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), to ensure TRACE is designed to meet their needs. We have quality screened TRACE using surface observations in Birmingham and London, applied TRACE to estimate that the toxic air pollutant NO2 has decreased by more than 40% over the past 13 years in Birmingham and London, and identified large and glaring biases in agricultural emissions in the UK National Atmospheric Emission Inventory. We are now evaluating the performance of the air quality model used by DEFRA to develop mitigation strategies and will next apply TRACE to international cities in India and South Africa to demonstrate that TRACE offers a scalable, global solution to monitoring and assessing city sustainability worldwide.

I entered the Copernicus Masters Data Visualisation Challenge to take full advantage of the exciting opportunity to apply to work with design experts at The Catapult to augment existing business team design expertise and gain direct access to potential customers. This then guarantees that TRACE is accessible, meets end user needs, and is effectively marketed. I am very excited to be selected as a Finalist, further legitimizing my idea. I plan to use this momentum to grow my team by recruiting new data analysts, approach potential end users to garner additional support and interest for TRACE, and seek funding to support this growth.