NASA to Improve Satellite Air Quality Monitoring
Updated: Aug 29
Starting June 27, two NASA research airplanes will work to improve the ability of satellites to accurately measure air quality from space. The planes will fly from Beltsville, Maryland to the northeastern corner of Maryland, following major roadway traffic corridors. The flights are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the hopes it will aid the agency’s efforts to monitor pollutants.
The problem with the existing program to monitor air pollution with satellites is that it becomes difficult for the space-borne instruments to distinguish between air pollution in the high atmosphere and that near the surface. This problem makes the results from the satellite measurements less accurate. To address this problem, ground-borne instruments will take simultaneous measurements with the ones being taken in the airplanes and also by the satellites. By comparing all three sets of measurements, scientists will be able to determine more accurate methods of analyzing the data from satellites.
The project is called DISCOVER-AQ and is one of five Earth Venture investigations chosen in 2010 as part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program. The name stands for Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality.
Satellite measurements are important for monitoring air quality because many ground-based networks of air pollution monitors contain large gaps in the area covered. The satellites give scientists the ability to cover a more complete geographic area. “What we’re trying to do with DISCOVER-AQ is to fill the knowledge gap that limits our ability to monitor air pollution with satellites,” said James Crawford, the mission’s principal investigator based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
The Aqua and Aura are the two satellites that will pass over the study area every day in the early afternoon. The ground-based network used for the program is mostly maintained by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Additionally, instrumentation will be provided by NASA, EPA, Howard University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Innsbruck in Austria will join NASA investigators on the flights.