New NASA Satellite Maps Show Human Fingerprint on Global Air Quality

  • 2016-01-07
  • NASA

Using new, high-resolution global satellite maps of air quality indicators, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends over the last decade in various regions and 195 cities around the globe. The findings were presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

"These changes in air quality patterns aren't random," said Bryan Duncan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the research. "When governments step in and say we're going to build something here or we're going to regulate this pollutant, you see the impact in the data."

Duncan and his team examined observations made from 2005 to 2014 by the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard NASA's Aura satellite. One of the atmospheric gases the instrument detects is nitrogen dioxide, a yellow-brown gas that is a common emission from cars, power plants and industrial activity. Nitrogen dioxide can quickly transform into ground-level ozone, a major respiratory pollutant in urban smog. Nitrogen dioxide hotspots, used as an indicator of general air quality, occur over most major cities in developed and developing nations.

The science team analyzed year-to-year trends in nitrogen dioxide levels around the world. To look for possible explanations for the trends, the researchers compared the satellite record to information about emission controls regulations, national gross domestic product and urban growth.