Researchers in the United Kingdom are studying how smog and other pollutants in the air are spread throughout London through the use of small sensors placed on the backs of pigeons.

Air pollution continues to be one of the biggest health threats to people in the UK, with the level of contaminants in the air around the country's capital already breaching annual limits in just the first week of this year.

In order to monitor the quality of London air more closely, French tech company Plume Labs, together with marketing consultancy firm DigitasLBI, launched a new program called the Pigeon Air Patrol, which is designed to measure the amount of air pollution in the city.

Scientists from the company released 10 pigeons that were fitted with 25-gram (0.88-ounce) backpacks that can detect levels of nitrogen dioxide often produced by cars, buses and trucks. The birds are set to fly around the city from Mar. 14 to Mar. 16 to get a reading on the current state of air pollution.

Plume Labs CEO Romain Lacombe said that about 10,000 Londoners die every year because of the negative effects of air pollution on people's health.

He pointed out that fitting pigeons with air sensors not only helps raise public awareness regarding the air pollution in London, but it also serves to give people a fast and easy way to access more information about the impact of breathing poor quality air.

DigitasLBI creative director Pierre Duquesnoy explained that he took the inspiration of using pigeons to gather information from a similar technique used by soldiers during the first and second world wars.

He said that the birds fly at an altitude of about 100 to 150 feet at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, making them ideal for getting a reading of air pollution in London without having to contend with the city's congested roads.

How To Get An Air Quality Reading

People can monitor the level of air pollution in London through Pigeon Air Patrol's website. They can also ask for a reading from the sensors on the pigeons' backs by tweeting @PigeonAir.

While Pigeon Air Patrol is only scheduled to last for three days, the project of measuring air pollution in the city will be continued through another initiative known as E-Plume. About 100 people will pick up where the pigeons will leave off and wear similar air quality sensors while they go around the city.

Readings from these human-worn sensors will then be analyzed and interpreted by researchers at Imperial College London.

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