- Pigeons strapped with sensors are monitoring air pollution in London
- Almost 9,500 people die from long-term air pollution in city annually, report says
(CNN)It could seem like a bird-brained idea: relying on a team of pigeons to carry out scientific studies on air quality.
But chances are, you've never seen a squad of pigeons wear backpacks quite like this.
Meet London's Pigeon Air Patrol, a flock of "superbirds" measuring nitrogen dioxide in a city with some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.
Almost 9,500 people in the English capital die prematurely each year due to long-term exposure to polluted air, according to a report last year by King's College London.
Globally, the number of air pollution-related deaths is closer to 7 million, a 2014 World Health Organization report said.
Now a team of 10 trained pigeons is taking to the skies strapped with 25-gram sensors to measure the harmful emissions not always visible to the naked eye -- and, rather aptly, are tweeting the results.
Londoners can ask their feathered friends to track nitrogen dioxide levels in their area by tweeting @PigeonAir. The clever creatures, with a little help from researchers at Plume Labs, will then tweet back their readings, ranging from "moderate" to "extreme."
One of the pigeons -- which have names such as Norber, Coco and Julius -- will also be strapped with a GPS tracking device. A vet will be on hand to monitor the birds' well-being over three days of flights.