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Tracking Pollution From Space

NASA and other agencies will measure the movements of pollution around the globe this summer. NASA is participating with U.S. and international agencies as part of a combined air quality and climate study.

Image to left: Several aircraft will fly during INTEX, including the DC-8 and the WP-3. Their flight paths are depicted by the thin red line and the thick black lines over the U.S. and out into the North Atlantic Ocean. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NASA Ames

The first phase of the two-part experiment kicks off today through August 19. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are leading a team of scientists. Researchers will conduct observations, as part of the New England Air Quality Study, to track the path of polluting gases and aerosols traveling from North America to Europe. The University of New Hampshire, Durham, is a partner on a broader experiment, called the Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment-North America (INTEX-NA).

Image to right: NOAA / University of New Hampshire, AIRMAP program is part of the INTEX mission. AIRMAP maps New England’s changing climate and air quality. Above is a photograph of the White Mountains, from the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, one of the monitoring stations. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

INTEX-NA objectives include identifying the quantity of gas and aerosols that flow from North America to the Atlantic Ocean, understanding the transport and chemical changes of the gases over the ocean, and assessing the global impact of this flow on air quality and climate. The detailed observations made possible by INTEX-NA will support the enhanced validation of data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua and the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellites.

Image to left: In Summer, 2004 several coordinated experiments will study air quality, intercontinental transport, the carbon cycle, climate change and radiation balance in air masses carried across the US, over the Atlantic, and onward to Europe. It will involve satellites, airplanes, ships and 3-D computer models. INTEX will also serve to make sure satellite data is correct. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NASA Ames

The experiment will quantify the North American import and export of ozone and associated pollutant gases, aerosols and long-lived greenhouse gases. Scientists will make sensitive measurements from airplanes, satellites, balloons, and ground-based networks. Researchers will use sophisticated models to analyze data to propose a big picture view of pollutant transport, transformation, and impact on air quality and climate.

“This effort is important, because it is the first time a coordinated worldwide campaign has been launched to establish a benchmark reading from which global atmospheric policies can be developed,” said lead scientist Dr. Hanwant Singh of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Image to right: NASA’s DC-8 aircraft will be used during INTEX. NASA’s large Airborne Science research aircraft, a modified DC-8 airliner, displayed new colors in a check flight Feb. 24, 2004, over its home base, the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, California. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NASA Dryden

The NASA DC-8 long-range aircraft is equipped as a flying laboratory carrying a suite of highly sensitive instruments. Other agencies’ aircraft will fly over North America and the Atlantic to gather data. NASA’s satellites will provide large-scale context for the airborne observations. Observations of carbon monoxide made from the Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft and the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) onboard the Aqua spacecraft, will show the locations of polluted air from fossil fuel combustion and biomass burning.

Observations of aerosols from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectoradiometer (MODIS) and Multi-Angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) will allow scientists to observe the distribution and transport of particulate matter over the North Atlantic.

“Understanding the transport and transformation of gases and aerosols on transcontinental and intercontinental scales is essential for the scientific understanding of air quality and its relationship to climate change,” said Dr. Jim Gleason, INTEX-NA program manager.

Scientists will conduct a second field experiment in spring 2006 to study pollution movements from Asia towards North America, to determine implications for North American air quality. The timing of the two phases will allow scientists to look for seasonal variations in the global flow of pollution.

Image to right: NOAA’s Ronald H. Brown vessel is using state-of-the-art instrumentation to collect samples as part of a New England Air Quality Study. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

The INTEX-NA mission is coordinated under the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research on Transport and Transformation (ICARTT). The United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and France will conduct concurrent airborne campaigns. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; the U.S. Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y.; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.; and the Meteorological Service of Canada, Quebec, round out the INTEX-NA North American partners.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.