Here’s another great idea…

Technology – don’tcha just love it?

According to a recent Associated Press report, scientists have taken another giant step to better understand the intricacies of air pollution in fabled Silicon Valley. Venturing where no air pollution monitors have ventured before, they strapped backpacks on pigeons, equipped them with cell phones and sent them aloft to gather air quality information.

(Rumor has it researchers tried a similar experiment with German shepherds and cell phones several years ago but couldn’t get the gravity-challenged canines to fly very far.)

During the August experiment, pigeons launched over Silicon Valley reportedly carried miniature backpacks containing a global positioning system, pollution sensors and cell phones.

“Investigators at the University of California hope the winged researchers will fill in gaps in knowledge about the air we breathe, and bring nonscientists into the debate on air quality,” the Associated Press wrote.


For at least the past 50 years, a growing haze of air pollution has been blanketing what was once known as The Valley of the Heart’s Delight. To track the spreading cloud, one needed only to open one’s reddened eyes or take a deep breath.

We all know where much of that air pollution comes from – automobiles, industry, idiots equipped with gasoline-powered leaf blowers and the occasional flatulent cow. And we all know where the pollution goes – into our increasingly taxed lungs.

Santa Clara Valley’s movers and shakers were aware of the problem, too, and all agreed “We’ve to do something about that one of these days, no question about it…’

And there things stood until the advent of the pigeon-phone-pollution-monitoring program.

Admittedly, the idea came from researchers in Irvine, but I’m sure Santa Clara Valley’s own brain trust would have come up with a similar stroke of genius one of these days.

Perhaps the best thing about this bold stroke against air pollution is that it will undoubtedly lead to new and better ways to monitor other forms of pollution in our increasingly threatened ecosphere.

With high-flying pigeons taking the lead, it’ll only be a matter of time until gophers with cell phones will be burrowing their way through the Silicon Valley soil to monitor groundwater pollution. Once the bane of hard-working farmers and golfers in Santa Clara County, the big-toothed, big-hearted rodents will be celebrated warriors in the ongoing war against pollution.

Slap a cell phone and some miniaturized monitoring equipment on the back of an otherwise ordinary crayfish and you’ve got the latest eight-legged research tool for analyzing pollution in fresh water ponds, streams and lakes.

Who knows, someday we may be able to invest in one or more of these high-tech critters for home use to measure levels of selenium, arsenic and mercury in our bath tubs and swimming pools.

Better safe than sorry, amigos …

Originally published September 3, 2006