Downwinders’ Drone Air Monitoring Project Makes Finals of “Earth Tank Prize” Competition

by Downwinders on April 6, 2016

Drone 1In what would be a huge leap forward in the ability of citizens to do their own air monitoring, Downwinders' proposal to purchase a drone and use it for regional air quality sampling is in the running for Earth Day Texas' "Earth Tank Prize" competition. 

Purchasing the first aircraft in a new citizen-organized "North Texas Clean Air Force" is now one of nine projects to be pitched live in front of a "Shark Tank"- like atmosphere of audience and judges on the last day of the Fair Park extravaganza. Locally-based Downwinders' is in direct competition with two other groups in the category of organizations with budgets under $100,000 annually: statewide group Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Austin-based Rainforest Partnership. The prize is a $3000 grant. 

Earth Tank Prize 2016 is an initiative of Earth Day Texas (EDTx) and Dallas Festival of Ideas (DFOI) that awards cash prizes to environmental non-profit groups for important conservation and sustainability projects in Texas. The other two categories of contestants – non-profits making between $100-500,000, and those bringing in over $500,000 also have three finalists each and are competing for prize packages of $7,000 and $15,000 respectively. The complete list of finalists is here.

For our own effort, Downwinders has partnered with Dr. Michael Slattery of TCU's Institute for Environmental Studies, who has experience in both air quality modeling and using drones for conservation of rhino populations in Africa. Dr. Slattery would head a committee determining the use of the drone to insure scientific credibility and useful, robust data. Local academic institutions and non-profits would be able to propose projects that would be weighed on their ability to add to public policy and public health.

Besides its capacity to provide a new tool for researchers, the Downwinders' drone could also become an important enforcement tool for citizens.

Having the ability to monitor and sample air quality in real time anywhere in the North Texas area is a game changer for local public health policy. Not only can a wide variety of hypotheses be tested relating to plume transport and content, but you’d have the ability to monitor downwind of catastrophic accidents, and confirm the compliance of major polluters. You can show where the state should place new official monitors, and what pollutants those monitors should be targeting. You can map more effective control strategies using the results.

As we noted in our submission, what’s unique about this proposal is not that it employs a drone, but that it’s a direct assumption of government responsibilities by local citizens and experts. Much like Downwinders' recent taking over of the state's air computer modeling duties for smog, churning out a map for cleaner air the state could not bring itself to produce, this is a way that citizens can not just supplement, or replace the state's current air monitoring and sampling program. We can build a better one. 

All nine finalists for the Earth Tank Prize will pitch live to an audience and judges at Fair Park Sunday, April 24th. We'll follow-up with details as to when and where. Cross your fingers. 


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