The Hawai’i Island Volcanic Smog Sensor Network (HI-Vog): Tracking air quality and community engagement near a major emissions hotspot

EPA Grant Number: R836183
Title: The Hawai’i Island Volcanic Smog Sensor Network (HI-Vog): Tracking air quality and community engagement near a major emissions hotspot
Investigators: Kroll, Jesse H. , Heald, Colette L.
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology , The Kohala Center
EPA Project Officer: Callan, Richard
Project Period: May 1, 2016 through April 30, 2019
Project Amount: $750,000
RFA: Air Pollution Monitoring for Communities (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice , Air Quality and Air Toxics , Air


Air quality on the Island of Hawai’i (“the Big Island”, pop. 186,738) can be exceedingly poor due to high emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from Kilauea Volcano. The resulting “volcanic smog” (“vog”), a mixture of SO2 and fine particulate matter (PM), has negative impacts on human health as well as agriculture, and consequently is a major concern of local communities. Because of the high variability of the volcanic plume, community members’ exposures to vog cannot be easily estimated. The region thus serves as a unique test case for the use and assessment of distributed air quality (AQ) networks based on portable low-cost sensors. This project entails the development and deployment of a state-of-the-art community-based AQ sensor network across Hawaii Island (HI-Vog), for the measurement of SO2 and PM levels with high spatial and temporal resolution. The network aims to provide improved measurements of air quality and vog exposures across the island, as well as to assess the utility of AQ sensor networks as community resources and as tools for atmospheric chemistry research. 


The HI-Vog network will consist of ~40 sensor nodes for the measurement of SO2 levels and PM number concentrations (as well as other environmental parameters). Drift in the accuracy of the SO2 electrochemical sensors will be assessed by comparison with nearby Federal Reference Method (FRM) measurements, which will also enable in-field calibration. A new low cost optical particle counter (OPC) will measure PM size distributions down to 380 nm, providing insight into particle sources, and offering the opportunity to assess PM mass estimates derived from PM number measurements. Engagement and communication with the community will be coordinated by the Kohala Center (TKC), a community-based institute for research, conservation, and education. The majority of the nodes will be integrated into TKC’s Hawaii Island School Garden Network, providing connectivity between HI-Vog measurements and the school curriculum and thus enhancing community education and engagement with the AQ data. Real-time data will be available to the community through the network website, as well as touchscreen interfaces at “community hubs”, implemented at health centers throughout the island.

Expected Results:

The successful development of the HI-Vog network will enable improved estimates of residents’ exposures to volcanic emissions, which will be of value to community members, community leaders, and researchers (in air quality, public health, etc). The resulting dataset will be used to explore topics such as pollutant variability, secondary pollutant formation, and satellite validation, providing information on applications of low-cost sensor networks to atmospheric chemistry. Finally, survey feedback and web access data will provide insight into how AQ networks can provide maximum benefit to community members. 

Supplemental Keywords:

air pollution, point source, sensor networks, science curriculum;

Relevant Websites:

Hawai‘i Island Air Quality (HIAQ) Network Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

2016 Progress Report