Pigeons in London are being fitted with backpacks in order to better understand how smog and other air pollution is distributed around Britain's capital city. The data is also being made available to the public in an effort to battle pollution.

Nitrogen dioxide was found to be far more concentrated in the atmosphere than recommended by health professionals. This gas, which can result in diseases of the heart and lungs, was especially common around Oxford Street in the island nation's largest city.

Plume Labs and DigitasLBi, a pair of technology companies, are now placing air pollution sensors onto wild pigeons, with the electronics attached to a fabric vest, worn by the birds. The Pigeon Air Patrol, utilizing just 10 birds, will last just three days, but this test will lay the groundwork necessary to carry out a larger future study. The next phase of investigation will be carried out in conjunction with investigators from the Imperial College London.

In addition to nitrogen dioxide, the sensors also record concentrations of ozone. These two gases, together, make up the majority of air pollution in urban areas. Concentrations of the gases have been carried out using sensors worn by human volunteers.

"Personal monitors have the potential to help us understand the city's air pollution in great detail, from where the pollution hotspots are to what urban designs reduce exposure. But they also have a more personal side. We hope people will think more about their own contribution and exposure to air pollution, and what the health implications of their behaviour are," Dr. Audrey de Nazelle of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said.

Air pollution is not a trendy topic, so researchers came up with this new means of engaging the public in their research.

Pigeons used in the study are racing pigeons, who are cared for by a veterinarian, to ensure the animals remain in good health. Oddly, pigeons in smog-covered regions in China fly faster than normal, although biologists are uncertain why this is the case.

Several technologies are available to assist in reducing air pollution. However, investigators hope their research will also encourage people to reduce their own impact on air pollution and to support public policies targeting such emissions.

London residents will be able to learn the pigeon's assessment of air pollution in their region of the city by tweeting their location to @pigeonair.

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