Bay Nature magazineSummer 2012

Climate Change

Kids Tracking Climate, in Real Time

July 1, 2012

Maybe you take the bus to work or abandon the gas pedal on Bike to Work Day, but how do you know whether you and your neighbors are making a difference in your community?

It’s hard to know for sure, since nearly all greenhouse gas emissions are monitored on a global scale. Now that’s changing. UC Berkeley Professor Ron Cohen is leading a team that’s designing a network of real-time regional carbon dioxide monitors called BEACON (Berkeley Atmospheric Carbon Network), and they’re testing the system at schools and with community partners all over Oakland. They’re also working with Chabot Space and Science Center on a curriculum, so students at participating schools can see the data collected by their sensors and compare carbon levels on a public website (

Each “node” is a roof-mounted gray utility box containing a sensor that uses infrared light to measure local carbon levels and a computer to wirelessly transmit real-time data back to the lab at Berkeley. Thanks to digital visuali-zation tools, numerical data collected by the nodes is converted into easily understood charts and maps of pollution levels.

The fact that this is real data, happening now, is a key part of the project. “Real-time data has real impact. This data could be determining policy,” says Etta Heber, Chabot’s director of education. The first school to install a node was Oakland’s Skyline High School, and over the next year, the project aims to add 32 more schools and community partners. UC Berkeley graduate student Virginia Teige, who designed the nodes, has her sights on even bigger networks: “We’d ideally like to cover the whole Bay Area, but that’s a long-term goal.”

About the Author

This article was part of the special publication "The Parks and the People" was supported by funding from the following organizations:With 130,000 members, the California State Parks Foundation is the only independent non-profit organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing, and advocating for California's magnificent state parks.Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world can flourish. To date, the League has completed the purchase of more than 189,000 acres of redwood forest and associated land.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is dedicated to advancing a productive, vibrant, and sustainable California through grantmaking that supports nonprofit organizations and initiatives that demonstrate the potential to address critical challenges to the health and prosperity of California.Thanks to the following people for their assistance, advice, and support: Jennifer Benito, Bob Berman, Carol Berman, Diana Colborn, Jerry Emory, Bree Hardcastle, Roy McNamee, Bill Meister, Steve Nilson, Loren Rex, Danita Rodriguez, Alexis Stoxen, Traci Verardo-Torres.