NASA share real-time, high resolution air quality data

Launched in April last year, NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution satellite instrument (TEMPO), set out to change the way scientists observe North American air quality from space.

Yesterday, the Atmospheric Science Data Center at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia announced that they would be making this near real-time data available to any organisations who might benefit from it.

NASA scientists have been collecting local air pollution measurements for more than 20 years from low earth orbit but from TEMPO’s geo-stationary position, 22,000 miles above North America, it will be able to sweep the entire continent once per hour.

By measuring  how sunlight is absorbed and scattered by gases and particles in the troposphere (the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere) TEMPO tracks most of the main pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ground level ozone, aerosols and formaldehyde, from sources such as cars, oil refineries and wildfires.

Hazem Mahmoud, science lead at NASA Langley’s Atmospheric Science Data Center said: ‘All the pollutants that TEMPO is measuring cause health issues. We have more than 500 early adopters using these datasets right away. We expect to see epidemiologists and health experts using this data in the near future. Researchers studying the respiratory system and the impact of these pollutants on people’s health will find TEMPO’s measurements invaluable.’

Xiong Liu, senior physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and principal investigator for the mission said: ‘Data gathered by TEMPO will play an important role in the scientific analysis of pollution. For example, we will be able to conduct studies of rush hour pollution, linkages of diseases and health issues to acute exposure of air pollution, how air pollution disproportionately impacts underserved communities, the potential for improved air quality alerts, the effects of lightning on ozone, and the movement of pollution from forest fires and volcanoes.’

TEMPO’s data will be particularly valuable for monitoring air quality in rural areas, where monitoring stations are frequently hundreds of miles apart.

An early adopter of TEMPO’s data is the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Water, Climate, and Health Program. Jesse Bell, executive director there explained: ‘Poor air quality exacerbates pre-existing health issues, which leads to more hospitalizations.

‘Low-income communities, on average, have poorer air quality than more affluent communities. For example, we’ve conducted studies and found that in Douglas County, which surrounds Omaha, the eastern side of the county has higher rates of pediatric asthma hospitalizations. When we identify what populations are going to the hospital at a higher rate than others, it’s communities of color and people with indicators of poverty. Data gathered by TEMPO is going to be incredibly important because you can get better spatial and temporal resolution of air quality across places like Douglas County.’

The National Park Service are another organisation already benefitted from the data. NPS Chemist, Barkley Sive said: ‘We are using TEMPO data to gain new insight into emerging air quality issues at parks in southeast New Mexico. Oil and gas emissions from the Permian Basin have affected air quality at Carlsbad Caverns and other parks and their surrounding communities. While pollution control strategies have successfully decreased ozone levels across most of the United States, the data helps us understand degrading air quality in the region.’

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said: ‘TEMPO is one of NASA’s Earth observing instruments making giant leaps to improve life on our home planet. NASA and the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to addressing the climate crisis and making climate data more open and available to all. The air we breathe affects everyone, and this new data is revolutionizing the way we track air quality for the benefit of humanity.’

Home page image: © Maxar.


Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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