We know that air pollution is a major contributor to ill health and early death. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 92% of the world’s population live in places where air quality is below guideline levels, and that outdoor air pollution causes the premature deaths of around 3 million people a year.

The WHO collects data from countries about their air quality and produces a map showing global pollution hotspots.

But now we can see how that pollution moves across the globe. A team of experts in computer programming and environmental science has taken air pollution data, combined it with wind speeds, and put it on a 3D model of the Earth.

The company, AirVisual Earth, says it is the “first 3D air pollution map to show the interaction of ambient particulate matter (PM2.5) levels and weather patterns.” Of all air pollutants, PM2.5 is the smallest – and the most dangerous to human health.

Clicking on a spot on the interactive map shows the wind speed and the amount of pollution in the air. For instance, these screenshots show how, on March 6, Mumbai had a wind speed of 13km per hour and a pollution factor of PM2.5 | 94.7 µg/m³. This means that there was a concentration of 94.7 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m³) of fine particles (PM2.5) at that moment.

Image: AirVisual Earth

The WHO says that we need to reduce PM2.5 pollution to an annual average of no more than 10 μg/m³, or a 24-hour average of 25 μg/m³ in order to significantly reduce the risks for acute and chronic health effects.

The colour coding on the map shows areas with very low levels of particulate matter in blue, and areas with the most pollution in dark red.

Image: AirVisual Earth

AirVisual sources its data from satellite imagery and information given to it from over 10,000 monitoring stations. This includes government stations as well as the company’s own air quality monitors.

The company says it wants people to really understand how bad pollution is, so that they will be motivated to do more about it.

It also hopes that its technology will change the way we live. It can deliver three-day air pollution forecasts for 6,000 cities to smartphones, so that people can avoid certain areas if necessary.

Image: AirVisual Earth

“The future in which buildings optimize air purification systems; where maps recommend the least polluted path; and cities adjust emissions based on air quality forecasts – is here,” AirVisual says.

In a world where almost 90% of children live in places where outdoor air pollution exceeds WHO limits, this can only be a good thing.