Methane Sensors, Cows and Air Pollution (Assignment 5)

Sensor Journalism is a medium of storytelling fairly new to me. In the Sensor Journalism Tow Center report, there are five case studies on how journalists used sensors to measure or sense something in the world to be featured in a research based story.

After reading these case studies and visiting the Spark Fun website with thousands of different sensors, I knew what would be an interesting variable to measure.

I went to Robert D. Bullard’s guest lecture , sponsored by the Geography department a few weeks ago where Dr. Bullard discussed his studies of air pollution/pollution in general, in relation to Geography. His findings were extremely interesting and I immediately thought of this while reading the Houston Chronicle case study from the Tow Center Report.

Bullard did case studies in Houston, TX, Flint, Michigan, small towns in Tennessee, and many others. All his findings lead to the fact that neighborhoods surrounding locations with bad air quality, water quality, or other forms of pollution, were full of minorities. He then went into the politics of neighborhoods and urban spaces, revealing remarkable data about how these communities often go unnoticed.

My idea for a sensor has to do with air pollution in relation to farming. After hearing Bullard’s lecture my interest was sparked in learning more about air pollution and how we can stop it. One interesting finding was that cattle farming contributes a significant amount of methane gas emitted in the air due to cows releasing large, concentrated amounts of gas, when they are corralled in large groups on cattle farms, “Ruminant livestock can produce 250 to 500 L of methane per day. This level of production results in estimates of the contribution by cattle to global warming that may occur in the next 50 to 100 yr to be a little less than 2%.”

One scholarly article I read about cows and methane emissions admitted that there are several factors that influence methane emissions from cows including, “level of feed intake, type of carbohydrate in the diet, feed processing, addition of lipids or ionophores to the diet, and alterations in the ruminal microflora.” If more farmers knew about the effects of their cattle in the atmosphere, and how they could stop/change it, we could really make a difference in the air quality in the next few years, “Manipulation of these factors can reduce methane emissions from cattle.”

The sensor I’m interested in using was the Methane CNG gas sensor. My study would involve teaming up with several groups of cattle farmers. I would then ask them to initially use the sensors to measure their current air quality, then I would have different groups change different factors in their cattling techniques to see how each change would effect the air quality. Finally, the change in cattling with the biggest difference made in air quality would conclude my studies. This would be very valuable to farmers who are interested in helping the environment any way they can. This study would  be time consuming but I thing the end goal would definitely justify the means.

Scholarly Article citation:

Johnson, K. A., and D. E. Johnson. “Methane Emissions from Cattle.”Journal of Animal Science 73.8 (1995): n. pag. Alliance of Crop, Soll, and Environmental Science Societies (ACCESS). Web. 4 May 2016. <>.

Other links from above;

Sparkfun Methane Gas Sensor, 4.95


Robert D. Bullard Lecture Announcement


Tow Center Sensor Journalism Report (Required Reading)


Maxine Williams