University College Cork establishes Ireland's largest low-cost air sensor network

University College Cork researchers deployed a dense network of Clarity Node-S sensors across Irish towns, gathering data to validate Ireland's first countrywide forecast model.

Life Emerald

Node-S devices deployed


Estimated premature deaths in Ireland annually caused by exposure to PM2.5

Dr. Stig Hellebust

Dr. Stig Hellebust

Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, University College Cork
We work mainly with the local authorities for deploying the Node-S devices — with the local council. The community has been really helpful and has made a big difference. The majority of the Nodes are up on street lamps around the town.
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Outdoor air pollution poses a major risk to public health in Ireland, with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) estimated to cause over 1,300 premature deaths annually. To enhance air quality monitoring and forecasting capabilities nationwide, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a collaborative project called Life Emerald.

An aerial view of Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland

Funded in part by the EU LIFE program, Life Emerald brought together the EPA, University College Cork, and other research partners to gather high-density air quality data across different fuel types and environments in Ireland. This hyperlocal data would then inform and validate Ireland's first countrywide air quality model and forecast system.

Launching a collaborative project for better air quality forecasting

Dungarvan, County Waterford

Researchers needed to monitor air pollution at a neighborhood scale using real-time sensors to calibrate the Life Emerald air quality model to actual conditions. However, Ireland's existing regulatory air quality monitoring network consisted only of sparse reference-grade stations, many located outside of urban residential areas. According to Dr. Stig Hellebust, project leader at University College Cork, 

We needed high density of data to develop a model that was representative of a real situation on a very local scale — so multiple devices and multiple locations." 

The ambitious goal was to eventually provide enhanced forecasting and spatial mapping of air pollution for communities nationwide.

Finding the right ambient air quality measurement solution

University College Cork needed an efficient way to deploy a dense air quality monitoring network across different Irish towns during a single heating season to collect the localized air quality data required for Life Emerald. However, regulatory-grade reference monitors would be prohibitively expensive at this scale.

Node-S device installation on a local lamp post

Lower-cost sensor options would need to provide flexibility in positioning without requiring access to power and WiFi. Continuous operation and data reliability were also critical to capture real-world fluctuations throughout months of monitoring. As PhD candidate Rósín Byrne described, 

Logistically, the network had challenges — which is why we chose to use Clarity devices. Because they have the solar panel, we don't need to worry about Wi-Fi and we didn’t need to worry about power."

Deploying Ireland's largest network of outdoor air pollution sensors

University College Cork deployed a monitoring network comprised of 22 Clarity Node-S devices along with some supplementary PurpleAir monitors. The compact, solar-powered Node-S air quality monitors provided the self-sufficient operation needed for flexible deployment. As Rósín explained,

We could put them up in middle of housing estates, and anywhere really. We didn't have to rely on having to find a plug or find Wi-Fi to be able to have the data remotely as well." 
Niall Kane and Paul Flynn from Waterford Council installing devices

The research team collaborated closely with local councils to install the monitors efficiently on streetlights and other municipal infrastructure across Waterford and County Offaly.

The resulting density of the network — nearly 20 monitors located throughout Waterford — provided unprecedented hyperlocal air quality data. With cellular connectivity, Clarity's cloud platform enabled automated data collection and visualization through an online dashboard. This allowed the researchers to compile and share the raw data with Life Emerald's modeling partners.

Clarity Node-S, Purple Air and QuantAQ devices undergoing collocation. Photo credit to the CRAC Lab at UCC

Enhancing public health with real-time, hyperlocal air quality data

The Clarity air quality monitoring network provided invaluable neighborhood-level air pollution data to inform and validate Ireland's nationwide air forecast model under development by the EPA. By revealing hyperlocal pollution patterns, the project is helping enhance air quality management and public health protection across Ireland.

Sensors in Dungarvan have been placed to give indicative measurements for Life Emerald's nationwide air forecast model.

With air pollution an urgent public health issue across Ireland, the Life Emerald initiative showcases how continuous hyperlocal monitoring data can empower air quality modeling efforts and inform emission reduction strategies. As low-cost sensor networks unlock new possibilities, countries like Ireland are poised to make unprecedented advances in understanding and improving air quality nationwide.

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