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NASA Launches TEMPO To Track Air Pollution On A Whole New Level

20 years ago, when meteorologist John Haynes first went to Washington, DC, there was so much pollution that he could stand on the roof of NASA headquarters and see airborne residues of the neighboring interstate highway. He claims that a cloud of smog extended all the way into Virginia and simply followed the freeway.
A decade later, NASA began sowing the seeds for an international initiative to track the health impacts of metropolitan air quality. The seeds have just started to sprout: The organization launched its first hovering equipment to monitor urban pollution recently. The scientists will add measures from aerial surveys to those data this summer. Also, NASA recently unveiled its first satellite mission, which will be carried out in collaboration with medical professionals to shed light on the connection between particular health issues and the dangerous airborne particles hanging over some of the biggest cities in the world.
The mission aims to paint a thorough picture of what exactly is in the sky and how it got there, one that is impossible to do just through the use of ground-based pollution monitors. The data from the Environmental Protection Agency does not accurately reflect the air that most people breathe because there are no EPA monitors in 79% of US counties. Much less data is available from other parts of the world.
NASA has previously experimented with environmental surveillance. Since the 1990s, the organization has been monitoring conditions closer to Earth by using tiny aircraft to fly over the ocean, tropical rainforests, and regions of Asia and Africa. The agency has been analyzing the ozone layer, the uppermost layer of the atmosphere, for decades.
“That was sort of what we call the exploratory days,” says Earth scientist Barry Lefer, manager of NASA’s Tropospheric Composition Program, which focuses on the chemical makeup of pollutants inhabiting the atmosphere underneath the ozone layer. “But,” he continues, “the transition to urban air quality is relatively new.”
It is difficult to monitor emissions across even a small area like a city, let alone a neighborhood, from a vast area like the sky. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the agency’s first satellite tasked with investigating atmospheric carbon dioxide, was launched in 2014 and is still operational. OCO-3, its replacement, is currently fixed to the International Space Station. The two have created precise maps of the emissions of carbon dioxide from the largest power plant in Europe and the Los Angeles basin. OCO-3 travels over almost every city on Earth, however it doesn’t continuously monitor any site for extended periods of time, therefore its information is still limited.
The new solution is TEMPO, the NASA air quality project that recently launched. TEMPO stands for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution. It will be the first Earth-observing satellite with an instrument locked in a geostationary orbit, which allows it to hover over a specific area of the world by rotating in tandem with the planet. For the first time, NASA will be able to make hourly daytime observations of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, and more across North America, including the continental United States, the Caribbean islands, and most of Canada and Mexico. “We’re going to get from sunrise to sunset,” Lefer says, with data taken frequently enough to see spikes during rush hour traffic.
Moreover, TEMPO will be able to monitor changes in local pollution levels. Lefer believes that since lower-income and racially segregated regions are more likely to be close to emissions sources, such ports and refineries, it will be especially helpful for revealing environmental inequality. “And satellite data can show that,” he says. With information being continuously gathered across larger North America, weather forecasting will also improve. Agencies will be able to predict future conditions with more accuracy, particularly in areas where data is currently limited to a specific time of day.
Not only NASA is monitoring ozone depletion in the atmosphere. The Geostationary Environmental Monitoring Spectrometer, or GEMS, a South Korean sensor, served as TEMPO’s precursor and has been monitoring pollution patterns over larger Asia since 2020. The Copernicus Sentinel-4 satellite will be launched by the European Space Agency in a few years to do the same task over Europe and North Africa. Scientists will be able to follow how pollution moves over long distances, when it leaves the range of one spacecraft and comes up in another, thanks to this satellite constellation, which will offer the first thorough view of air quality over the whole northern hemisphere.

Such a network is not currently anticipated for the southern hemisphere. However, Lefer notes that work is being done with NOAA to transform information from current satellites into accurate assessments of PM 2.5 for regions of the world without ground-based monitoring. Haynes is the program manager for NASA’s Health and Air Quality Applications program and its Applied Remote Sensing Training Program, which conducts free seminars to instruct the public on how to use NASA data for concerns relating to air quality, fire risk, and conservation. International teams operating satellites, aircraft, and ground-based sensors while collaborating with epidemiologists, socioeconomic experts, policymakers, and citizen scientists are the future that both NASA scientists see. “All of these are coming together to really make a golden age of using Earth observations for understanding air quality and health,” Haynes says.
The atmosphere is already cleaning up, according to satellite data. According to Haynes, sulfur concentrations are now too low to be measured from orbit. In some places, nitrogen dioxide has fallen by 50%. Now Haynes is no longer able to see the smog over the interstate: “Air quality in the United States is cleaner now than at any time in the modern industrial age,” he says. “We can have a clean environment, and also a healthy economy and healthy population — all at the same time.”

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  • We Don't Have Time

    41 w

    Dear George Kariuki Your climate love has received over 50 agrees! We have reached out to NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration by email and requested a response. I will keep you updated on any progress! To reach more people and increase the chance of a response, click the Share button above to share the review on your social accounts. For every new member that joins We Don't Have Time from your network, we will plant a tree and attribute it to you! /Adam, We Don't Have Time

    • Tabitha Kimani

      64 w

      NASA goes an extra mile to provide information to enable us make the right decisions and take actions.

      • Mc Kaka

        64 w

        Commitment of NASA amizes me on their prowess on combating climate chnage

        • Kevin

          64 w

          very impressive.Kudos

          • Daniel Waweru

            64 w

            This is great commitment Congratulations @NASA

            • Edwin wangombe

              64 w

              I just love how NASA is committed in integrating technology and fighting against climate change

              • Elizabeth Gathigia

                64 w

                Great move

                • Joseph Githinji

                  64 w

                  Congratulations to NASA for the great milestone.

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