Farewell from an NCA Summer Researcher


Greetings and farewell from one of the two Newtown Creek Alliance 2015 summer interns! As I wrap up my time with NCA, I thought this might be a good time to share something of what I have been doing for the past 3 months. I have been involved in a number of projects this summer, including NYC Parks’ TreesCount street tree census, helping with restoration efforts at NCA’s Plank Road site, and producing a radio story about the Greenpoint Oil Spill:

But this post is about my largest project. It is based on HabitatMap’s AirCasting sensor/platform. From the website, “AirCasting is a platform for recording, mapping, and sharing health and environmental data using your smartphone…” and sensor that clips onto your belt or bag. Throughout this summer, I have walked around Newtown Creek, collecting air quality data with the AirBeam sensor. Among my favorite trips is the canoe journey I made with Willis Elkins (NCA Program Manager), and Sam Wganer (the other intern) down the creek. The entire archive of my summer AirCasting trips live here. Click on the arrow next to “ Sessions Graph” once you have selected a session to better visualize the data. Each session is plotted on a map and includes time, temperature, humidity and airborn particulate matter (a rough measure of air quality)

The clearest correlation I saw in the data is between air quality and time of day. For example, I AirCasted the same walk to the subway each day for three days. The results? The walk I took at 9am on July 10th was within the acceptable range of particulate matter. However, during the the walk I took at 11am the previous day, the air quality was already much worse. The walk I took on July 8th at 5pm, the airborn particulate matter was extremely elevated. This is hardly a sufficient sample size nor have I controlled for humidity and temperature. More testing is definitely in order! However, other longer trips also seem to bear a similar inverse correlation between time and air quality  (remember to open the “Session Graphs” tab!).


Although I am not able to draw any hard conclusions from the data I have gathered this summer, I have gained invaluable experience in my time with Newtown Creek Alliance. In gathering air quality data, collaborating with Sam on water quality and conducting the tree census for NYC Parks, I have contributed to larger databases of citizen-gathered data. As I go on to a career in environmental sciences, I will remember this experience as a formative one. In a time when environmental concerns are treated as secondary to business & profit interests, citizen science must play a role in our movement, continuing to engage communities and demonstrate our collective role in the complex ecosystems of New York City.

Paulus van Horne
Summer Researcher 2015

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