NASA-funded study to map ground level air pollution

NASA is helping to fund a project that will see a network of satellites help scientists track ground-level air pollution in the USA.

Funded by a $528,000 grant from the US space agency, researchers from the University of Buffalo will develop statistical analysis tools and physics-based algorithms to map near-surface air pollution.

While effective at delivering big-picture data, scientists say the current network of satellites struggles to provide details on the number of pollutants that we currently breathe at ground level as they only provide data from five or 10 miles above ground.

So to obtain this data closer to earth, the research team will merge satellite data with data obtained from NASA’s aircraft observational campaigns and meteorological data that is logged by commercial airlines and various atmospheric models.

The three-year project will lead to maps of surface pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ammonia and others, over the contiguous U.S. The data will be freely available to the public.

‘There’s an information gap between what current satellites can tell us about air pollution and what’s really happening near Earth’s surface where we live,’ says Kang Sun, PhD, research assistant professor in the UB RENEW Institute and the project’s principal investigator.

‘This is of immense importance because surface air quality not only affects the health of humans but also ecosystems, crops and more.’

In May, it was announced that a new global network of satellites will measure carbon emissions from all large power plants around the world, thanks to a $1.7m grant from Google.

WattTime, a US-based non-profit organisation, is behind the project and they hope the data will hold polluting plants accountable to environmental standards as well as helping to advance emissions reduction technologies.