Tempo can also track variations in environmental pollution. Because low-income and racially segregated areas are likely to be near sources of emissions such as ports and refineries, Leffer predicts this will be particularly useful for exposing environmental inequities. “And the satellite data shows this,” he says. Weather forecasting is also useful: with data collected continuously in North America, agencies can predict future conditions more accurately, especially in areas where data is limited to a specific day.
But this mission has limitations: satellites can only look down, just as remote sensing ground monitors can only look up. According to Gregory Frost, a chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, details like which pollutants are present at different altitudes are lost that way. That’s why this summer, NASA is collaborating with NOAA, the National Science Foundation and many other institutions to fill the gap between space and Earth. Instruments on NASA’s DC-8, Gulfstream III and V, and other jets show gases and aerosols above cities such as New York City, Los Angeles and DC and coastal areas.
These readings are supplemented by Tempo’s space data measurements and in areas without good satellite or ground coverage. By combining all this data with EPA monitors and climate models, scientists will soon be able to analyze the atmosphere from multiple perspectives. “If we did that, it would be like we had air pollution control everywhere,” Frost said.
Scientists are especially chasing PM 2.5 or particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. Such aerosols make up less than 1 percent of the atmosphere. This is not much, Frost says, but all air quality problems are related to these tracking units. They damage crops, worsen visibility, and are small enough to enter people’s lungs, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Particles smaller than one micrometer can enter the bloodstream.
“Airborne dust is considered a major environmental health threat worldwide,” said David Diener, a planetary scientist at NASA. But which types of PM 2.5 are most harmful to humans is still a mystery. “There’s always this question of whether our bodies are more sensitive to the size of these particles or their chemical composition,” he said.
To find out, Diner is leading NASA’s first collaboration with major health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. In collaboration with the Italian space agency, the team plans to launch an observatory called MAIA, or Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols, next year that will sample the air in 11 cities across the planet, including Boston, Johannesburg and Boston. The Tel Aviv imager measures sunlight scattered from aerosols to learn about their size and chemical makeup. That data is then passed on to epidemiologists, who combine it with data from ground-based monitors and compare it to public health records to determine what dose and particle mix is associated with health problems such as emphysema, pregnancy complications and premature birth. Death.