China's rise as an economic power has brought numerous benefits to the country, but it has not been without downsides. Most notably, the fact that so much of Chinese industry still relies on coal power has resulted in severe air pollution in most major cities.
With about 20 million people, Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world, and also one with some of the worst air pollution. It is estimated that thousands of people die prematurely each year due to the effects of the smog that permeates the city. This problem is particularly acute in the winter, when weather conditions trap particles in the air. And Beijing's geography only serves to make this work. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, which makes it difficult for wind patterns to blow smog away.
What is to be done? According to an article on Quartz, IBM plans to work with the city to completely re-map air pollution. Using advanced big data techniques, IBM promises to track weather and pollution data so that city officials can issue accurate air quality warnings to residents and limit the flow of traffic when necessary. In addition, The plan includes a way to better track the sources of pollution, so officials can pursue long-term strategies to improve air quality.
These techniques should not be unique to China. There are many major cities all over the world that could use an additional crackdown on air pollution. Such data could help environmental consultants develop strategies to combat poor air quality.