News / USA

Oregon Advertising Studio Tracks Fukushima Radiation

Establishes website which collects information from multiple sources

Safecast contributor Pieter Franken takes a mobile probe radiation measurement in Japan.
Safecast contributor Pieter Franken takes a mobile probe radiation measurement in Japan.

Multimedia

Audio
Deena Prichep

If you were to picture the sort of person who might take the lead in gathering radiation data from the Fukushima nuclear accident, Marcelino Alvarez probably wouldn’t come to mind.

“My background is actually not in physics or nuclear physics or science or radiation data," he says. "It’s actually in advertising, so, building websites and doing product development.”

But Alvarez also follows what’s happening in the world. During the early days of the Fukushima crisis, he watched the news coverage nonstop. And he was surprised that even the experts were having a hard time finding accurate up-to-date information.

“So I said, 'There’s got to be a better way.'  And I drew a really crude sketch and I sent it to our creative director, and I said, 'What do you think about this? What if we made a site that just invited people to contribute their own data?' And so we designed it and, two days after that, basically launched the first version of the site.”

That website became what’s now called Safecast. The home page has a constantly-updating map of Japan with little pins charting the latest radiation data. Safecast aggregates data from official public sources and allows volunteers to upload their own Geiger counter readings.

Safecast co-founder and software lead Marcelino Alvarez
Safecast co-founder and software lead Marcelino Alvarez

Alvarez drew on his background in web design and location-based mobile apps to pull it together. He’s also working with scientists in the United States and Japan as well as individual programmers in Tokyo.

“So we’ve got official Japanese ministry data. We have volunteers in Japan data. We have Greenpeace and other organizations that are driving around creating data," says Alvarez. "So it’s a mix, and we hope that mix will help create a more accurate picture of what’s actually going on.”

Many people in Japan are hungry for that picture, given what Pieter Franken says are the frustrations with official government data. The Dutch Internet researcher at Tokyo’s Keio University is a member of Safecast’s Japanese team.

“What we have been seeing is that information that has been given has either been given too late, weeks after the measurements were done," says  Franken, "or may not have been done in a consistent manner.”

Safecast’s instant uploads mean its data is always timely. It’s also established standards for consistency for its volunteers. For instance, they’re asked to note where they took their measurements. Since fallout settles on the ground, a reading from a roof can be different from a reading at ground level.

Franken says knowing this is especially important when you’re trying to determine a possible risk to children.

“Kids love to touch soil, play with it, small babies stick it in their mouth and stuff like that. So when we’re measuring, it makes sense to measure at a height of one meter, actually a little bit lower than that, to understand what a child is exposed to in daily life.”

But even with established standards, relying on citizen-scientists means there are always questions about accuracy.

“So we make it very clear on the site that yes, there could most definitely be inaccuracies in crowd-sourced data," says Alvarez. "And yes, there could be contamination of a particular Geiger counter so the readings could be off. But our hope is that with more centers and more data being reported that those points that are outliers can be eliminated, and that trends can be discerned from the data that’s being reported.”

American scientist Stephen Frantz, of Reed College in Portland, sees value in this open-source model.

“If we get enough databases, enough information, we might see trends that nobody had ever measured." he says. "And we say, ‘Oh, look at that, the radiation levels here are doing this.’”

Frantz also says having so much data in a user-friendly format can serve another purpose: help people understand that not all radiation is due to leaks from nuclear power plants, that background radiation is a natural part of life.

“We live in a sea of radiation," says Frantz. "We’ve evolved in it and, since we can’t sense it with our five senses, we didn’t even know about it until 100 years ago. But we’ve been living in it all of time.”

The situation at the Fukushima reactor site remains volatile. That’s why Alvarez continually adjusts the website in response to suggestions from citizens and scientists. Safecast recently completed a fundraising campaign to send 600 Geiger counters to volunteers in Japan.

Alvarez hopes the non-profit Safecast model can grow, eventually creating a resource for collecting and sharing all kinds of environmental data, from pollen counts and seismic activity to pollution levels.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid