Breathing by Numbers

A new map shows air pollution data from around the world in real time.

Last week, a staggering environmental health statistic emerged: Air pollution is responsible for about 3.3 million premature deaths every year, more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. The authors of the study noted that quantifying pollution’s toll has been difficult due to a lack of data. But the World Air Quality Index, a new interactive map that broadcasts air-quality measurements from around the globe in real time, is helping us see where in the world we need to clear the air.

Based in Beijing, the project works with international environmental agencies to glean information from more than 8,000 government monitoring stations across 1,000 cities. The map color-codes the data according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index scale (green = good; maroon = hazardous) and refreshes every 15 minutes to relay the latest breathing conditions.

It’s still a work in progress, so you’ll notice some fairly substantial bald spots (Africa, anyone?), but the index is off to an impressive start. Got a suggestion? Click the question mark icon in the upper left-hand corner.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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