Are you Lichen your Air Quality?

Contributors: Natalia Carroll, Mustiqirr Muhammad                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


Project Summary:Our project was based on getting a good sense of air quality in neighborhoods around Chicago. We know that lichen is a good indicator of air quality, so it is a good way of determining the amount of pollution in neighborhoods of Chicago. For this project we are collecting data on lichen around different areas in Chicago. We have mapped our data points to show where we have collected data. The variables observed in this project includes the following: the humidity and temperature (in Celsius) of that day, the distance from the street (in meters), the GPS location, date, time collected, the tree the lichen is on (maple or ash), the type of lichen growing on the tree, and the amount of lichen growing on the tree using a grid.

     Anyone can help by contributing data via our website and epicollect. It is easy to contribute data using our method. All you have to do is make your own lichen grid tester(easier than it sounds) spot a maple or ash tree, and take down the amount of lichen observed through the grid squares. Don’t forget to jot down your location, and voila, you’ve got a picture of your air quality.

     When you are analyzing the tree, make sure to record the south side of the tree. We want to keep our data consistent, therefore, we make sure the variables stay the same. The process for recording data is explained below under”methods.”


Goal: Our goal is to determine the amount of lichen in each neighborhood of Chicago. This will allow us to get an idea of how Chicago’s overall air quality is, and how it can differ between neighborhoods. As you may know, lichen is very sensitive to pollution, therefore, it is a good indicator on how polluted an area is. Knowing the areas of Chicago that are heavily polluted (where lichen cannot survive) will give us an idea of where we need to help and change the environment for the better.


Get Involved! Anyone can help by collecting lichen surveys in their own neighborhood. The more data we collect from each neighborhoods, the better. All you have to do is make your lichen grid tester, download epicollect on your phone or tablet, and walk around your neighborhood in search of maples and trees.


Variables (the living and non-living factors to consider):

  • type of lichen growing
  • type of tree (we’re recording maples and ashes)
  • general air quality of area
  • location (relative to the street, the sun, water, etc.)
  • the side of the tree (we’re recording on the south side of each tree)


Data collection:

  • Date
  • Time Collected
  • GPS Location
  • Type of Tree (Maple or Ash)
  • Photos of Lichen, Tree, and Area
  • Distance from the street (in meters)
  • Type of Lichen
  • Amount of Lichen in Quadrant 1, 2, 3, and 4
  • Humidity and Temperature
  • Field Number (optional)


Methods: We’re using a Lichen Grid tester. This captures the relative amount of lichen of each tree. You can make the grid by forming wire into four 10×10 cm squares. For our grid we cut wire hangers (using plyers) and formed the wire into the ten by ten centimeter squares.To measure the lichen you hold the grid up to the southside of the tree and record the lichen inside each quadrant on the tree. There are four different classifications of the amount of lichen you may see. If you see no lichen, the score is zero. If there are 1 to 2 cm of lichen the score is 1. If there are several small colonies of lichen, the score is 2. If lichen covers more than 10 percent of the grid square, the score is 3. Once you have the score from each lichen square you add each score up and divide by the number of grid squares, which is 4. A perfect score (which means good air quality) is 3. The lowest score is a 0. Might want to throw on a gas mask.

     This method is based off the following website:


Locations: Any neighborhood in Chicago. So far we’ve collected from the following neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Ravenswood, South Shore, and Roscoe Village.




Item Amount Purpose
Notebook 1 To jot down notes on project
Pen/pencil as many as needed Duh.
Camera 1 To take pictures of the lichen
Lichen grid tester(picture below) 1 To test the relative amount of lichen through quadrants on the grid
GPS 1 To mark the location on the map
Smart Phone /Tablet 1 To record data in Epicollect
Measuring Tape 1 To find distance from the street in meters
Humidity Thermometer 1 To measure the humidity and temperature of that day     


How to identify Ashes and maples:


This is the grid tester we made from wire hangers.(It doesn’t have to look perfect)

lichen quad