Crowdsource your carbon: power plant mapping project seeks location, CO2 data

A citizen science project based at Arizona State University has put out a call for data: they want eagle-eyed environmentalists to help map power plants on Google Maps. The leader of the Ventus project, a carbon emissions modeler, wants to use the crowdsourced data to improve global carbon cycle models.

The estimated 30,000 power plants worldwide account for about 40 percent of global carbon emissions. While about 80 percent of these plants can be found on a map, there are still unknowns about what these plants are doing, like what fuel they use and how much electricity they generate. The ASU scientists hope to source this information by turning Ventus into a competition: the player who provides the most useable information within the first year will get a trophy and be included as an author on a research publication, plus (according to the website) gain serious street cred “among our very elite, newly-formed global group of citizen scientist enviro-nerds.”

To contribute to Ventus, users are asked to input the exact location of a power plant, its carbon dioxide emissions, what fuel it uses, and its electricity output. Not all of these pieces of information are needed, and users can also edit existing information for 25,000 power plants that have already been mapped, using data from the Center for Global Development. The researchers are specifically hoping to target people who live near or work at power plants, especially the thousands of new facilities in the developing world about which little data exist.

Using Ventus’ Google Maps interface seems simple enough, but as Nature News points out, a previous crowdsourcing effort to map dams wasn’t all that successful. But if the power plant data does start pouring in, researchers should be able to better track fossil fuel emissions, and apply this knowledge to tackle one of the largest contributors to climate change.