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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid