Intelligent Energy

Google Earth-government data mashup lets you see emissions

Google Earth-government data mashup lets you see emissions

Posting in Energy

The California Air Resources Board took loads of complex greenhouse gas emissions metrics turned into something people can see and interact with.

The California Air Resources Board has taken three years of clunky, complex greenhouse gas emissions data from the state's 625 biggest polluters and turned it into something people can "see" and interact with.

The interactive greenhouse gas map -- a mashup of emissions data from state regulators and Google Earth's mapping technology -- allows users to see GHGs by facility, year, and location. Users can pinpoint sources of emissions on a map and see at a glance how a particular facility compares to others in the same county, zip code or throughout the state.

Until recently, that valuable data likely existed in a spreadsheet that required patience and analytical skills. By using data visualization, information that might otherwise be viewed by regulators, industry folks and environmental organizations, is now far more likely to be seen and understood by the everyday citizens.

Now, users can quickly see that Chevron's Richmond Refinery in the San Francisco bay area just edges out BP's West Coast Products Refinery in Carson, Calif., in total emissions.

The Google Earth module displays colored balloons for each facility. The height of the graphic balloon represents the relative size of each facility's annual emissions in relation to others throughout the state. The graphic to the right shows oil refineries in the state.

The Google mapping technology includes satellite photography that shows details of each facility. The application also shows out-of-state facilities that provide some of the electricity imported into California, according to CARB.

The EPA released in January its own interactive map that features data from the biggest U.S.-based greenhouse gas polluters. The website tool is loaded with information, including emissions metrics from power plants, oil refineries and paper mills that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs.

There's plenty of data on the EPA website to do a little local-level gumshoeing and analysis. Still, it lacks the visual drama found over at the CARB's interactive emissions tracker.

Photo: Google Earth

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure