Experts frequently cite Southern California as one of the country’s worst polluted regions. Smog-filled days block views of mountains only a few miles away and particulate matter from the region’s two major ports — Long Beach and Los Angeles — layer windowsills and cars with a fine, black dust.
Beatriz da Costa, an assistant professor of studio arts and electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California Irvine, moved to the area three years ago and is well acquainted with the area’s smog and wanted to do something to raise the community’s awareness. “My personal interests come from a social interventionist's tradition with a specific interest in both science and engineering culture. How can I as an artist affiliated with the academy create bridges between high-end academic research and discourse with social and activist concerns?”
Da Costa and her graduate students fitted trained homing pigeons with GPS-enabled electronic air pollution sensors that transmitted air pollution data to the group’s website, www.pigeonblog.mapyourcity.net.
The first flight was launched in Northern California’s San Jose August 2006. Two other flights took place in Southern California — Irvine on August 18 and Newport on September 18. All of the pigeons returned home safe, Da Costa noted, and the group found “surprisingly high CO levels in the Anaheim region.”
On average, four pigeons were released during each of the three test flights. The birds flew no more than 20 miles.