The Gold Coast, its air – and KOALAs

Endless sandy beaches, surfers dancing on breaking ocean waves, droplets of water glittering in the sun, and a light breeze gently stroking our faces – that’s the magic that attracts  both Australian and foreign tourists to the Gold Coast.

Even more visitors than usual will descend on the Coast from April 4 to 15 when the Commonwealth Games takes place.

Preparations have been ongoing for several years and everything is expected to be perfect during the event – including the quality of the air!

Monitoring the air quality within the Games Village and at various locations around the Gold Coast will be a network of KOALA (Knowing Our Ambient Local Air-quality) sensors.

These compact, solar-powered units will take readings of airborne particles and carbon monoxide concentrations, and send this data via the mobile phone network to a cloud-based Data Management Centre for collection and analysis.

You’ll also be able to view some of this data in real time during the Games on a specially created, interactive map.

Why Good Air Quality is Good for You

We breathe in the surrounding air 24 hours a day. A person takes about 23,000 breaths a day. That creates the opportunity to inhale pollutants present in the air. These pollutants have been shown to have a negative impact on a person’s health. For example, that could be a shorter-term response, such as triggering an asthma attack, or longer-term impacts such as cancer or heart diseases.

Globally, inadequate air quality is one of the top risks people face, in fact risk number five, according to the Global Burden of Disease assessment (Forouzanfar et al. 2015). It’s estimated that poor air quality results in 6.5 million premature deaths each year and makes many more sick and unwell (World Health Organisation Summary of Air Pollution and Health).

Fortunately the air quality in Australia and particularly at the Gold Coast is very good. Nevertheless, as we move through the day between different places we live, work, study or play we can get exposed to varying air qualities. For example in Australian cities, like in any other cities around the world, this means getting close to traffic (or being in the traffic!) and inhaling car emissions. Even these relatively low levels of pollution, if we are exposed for long periods, can have health impacts. According to a recently published study, which was conducted in Brisbane (Clifford et al.2018), airborne ultrafine particles emitted in large quantities from vehicles are associated with the level of systemic inflammation in children, and therefore have deleterious health effects extending beyond the respiratory system.

Air Quality and Athletic Performance

Inhaling polluted air has an impact not only on health, but also on athletic performance: if lungs don’t function as well as they could or should, we cannot exert ourselves physically as well as we could! Some studies have quantified the deterioration in physical performance with the increase of air pollution (Das et al 2013; Matt et al. 2016). This brings us back to the Commonwealth Games and the performance of athletes from 70 nations and territories who will compete in the Games. So the question is:

Do we need to improve air quality at the Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games?

No we probably don’t. The Gold Coast has some of the cleanest air in Australia and in the world (Queensland Government Air Quality Monitoring, Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map). Yet, we don’t know what the exact concentrations of the various air pollutants are at any given time or location within the Gold Coast. With the breadth of the Gold Coast region (let alone the vastness of Australia) it is economically challenging to provide a sufficiently dense coverage of air monitoring stations to provide this information.  And hence the reason for our project!

Our Project  

The aim of this project is to establish and operate a state-of-the-art miniature air quality sensing network at and around the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Athletes Village and provide real time, visualised communication of the monitoring data.

This requires cross-disciplinary expertise and therefore our team includes partners from the Queensland University of Technology, the Department of Environment and Science and works in cooperation with Griffith University.

Further, we are very pleased to partner with the Southport State High School to engage high school students in our project and to provide opportunities to gain applied science experience.

Ultimately, we want to showcase to the world the beautiful and clean Gold Coast, and do it utilising the cutting-edge science and technology being developed by QUT researchers.

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The KOALA Monitor

Application of low cost sensors towards Knowing Our Ambient Local Air-quality (KOALA)

There is an increasing demand in the community for information on air pollution at a local level, which is often not available from standard government monitoring programs. In response to this demand, a project led by the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health (ILAQH) at QUT, supported by the Australian Research Council, has developing a low cost sensor package enabling monitoring of air quality at much higher resolution and systems to communicate the outcomes to interested people. The project relies on advanced sensor technologies, data transmission and analysis methods and is drawing on expertise from all the universities and the state and national government agencies involved in it.

The KOALA monitor is a stand-alone sensor package using solar energy to power the sensors that monitor the ambient air quality. Ten of these monitors, set up into a network will be used to showcase the good air quality of the Gold Coast including in the Athletes Village.

This unique project has received the strong support of QUT (through the 2017 Engagement Innovation Grants), the Department of Environment and Science and the Southport State High School community.

What it measures and why?

The KOALA monitor includes two low-cost air quality sensors that monitor particle and carbon monoxide concentrations in the air. Airborne particles and carbon monoxide are two key products of combustion sources such as motor vehicles and industry. In urban environments, the large majority of particles come from motor vehicles. During inhalation, these particles can penetrate deep into our lungs and many studies have shown a causal link between airborne particle pollution and adverse health effects such as respiratory, cardiology and pulmonary conditions.

How it operates

The Plantower PMS1003 sensor monitors both particle mass and number concentrations simultaneously in real time. The air sample is drawn into the device and exposed to a fine laser beam. The scattered light is monitored by a photodetector and a complicated algorithm is used to convert the signal to particle concentration. Particle mass is measured in micrograms per cubic metre and provided in three size classes: larger than 1.0, 2.5 and 10.0 micrometers. Particle number is measured and reported in six particle size fractions between 0.3 and 10.0 micrometers. The carbon monoxide concentration is monitored in real time with an Alphasense CO-B4 sensor. This is a passive device that works on the principle of electrochemical sensing to determine the gas concentration that is expressed in units of parts per million. The KOALA units are stand-alone and powered by a solar panel and built-in battery unit. All data are transmitted from the sensor units to a central database using the 3G/4G network.

Data Management

Critical to any real-time air monitoring program, the data from the KOALA monitors needs to be available to our air quality experts for examination and interpretation. To achieve this, we have created the “Data Management Centre” (DMC), a cloud-based system built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), to collect, store and make available the KOALA sensor data.

The DMC comprises a collection of servers, a database and a website which allows our scientists and students to examine the data that the KOALAs have sent back from the field.

It is designed to scale to thousands of sensors if required, and to continue to operate with little administration by IT technicians.

Current Situation

Compare air quality at the Gold Coast with locations across the world! Live air quality indexes (AQI) are published online and by surfing the interactive world map on the website, visitors can visualise and compare real-time air pollution levels and their probable health effects between cities across the world.

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Learning experience for SSHS students

Led by high school physics teacher and QUT Masters student Tara Kuhn, students at Southport State High School have the opportunity to engage with all different facets of the program. The students have helped to determine where the KOALA sensors should be positioned in the Gold Coast region and are involved in data analysis and comparison techniques using measurements from the Gold Coast KOALA network.

Students engage with this program at a classroom level via content delivery on air quality from members of the QUT team, seeing the KOALAs installed on site at the school and working through class activities involving both visual comparisons of data and data manipulation. The ultimate goal has been to engage students with not only the equipment and data, but to also have them be aware and actively thinking about the quality of air both during the project and after it finishes.

Meet Our Team

(Pictured L to R: Md Mahmudur Rahman, Rohan Jayaratne, Christian Witte, Lidia Morawska, David Wainwright, Bryce Christensen, Don Neale, Phong Thai, Tara Kuhn)

Queensland University of Technology

Department of Environment and Science

  • Christian Witte (Director, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Sciences)
  • David Wainwright (Director, Air Quality Sciences, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Sciences)
  • Donald Neale (Science Leader, Air Quality Monitoring, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Sciences)

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Funding / Grants

  • QUT Engagement Innovation Grants (2017 - 2018)


Other Partners