NASA satellite monitors ozone pollution by mapping its ingredients
The ozone layer is a protective barrier located in the Earth’s stratosphere absorbing a majority of the ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun. While performing a vital function at higher altitudes, ozone is a pollutant at surface level and causes a variety of health problems such as bronchitis and asthma. This is why researchers have worked to use satellite technology to find new ways to analyze ozone pollution.
Measuring ozone pollution has challenged scientists in the past due to its high concentrations in the upper atmosphere. The presence of the ozone layer has obscured attempts at gauging surface ozone levels. This data could be used by environmentalists and air quality specialists to assess and deal with ozone level concerns.
A study conducted by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in Palisades, New York made use of satellite data and computer models to come up with surface ozone level estimates. Xiaomeng Jin, researcher mentioned that “We’re using satellite data to analyze the chemistry of ozone from space.”
Scientists are able to use data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument on the Aura, a NASA satellite to gauge ozone levels. The equipment onboard the Aura does not directly measure ozone. However, it captures data relating to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides two very common ingredients of ozone. From there, researchers acquired a wealth of data which were used to create models.
VOCs are produced naturally in high volumes. These gases are largely given off by plants but can also come in smaller amounts from human activity. A small percentage of VOCs in the air are from burning of fossil fuels, pesticides and paint fumes. Nitrogen oxides, on the other hand, largely comes from burning of fossil fuels in factories, vehicles, and power plants. Nitrogen-based pollutants are found in much higher levels in cities.
“We are asking, ‘If I could reduce either VOCs or NOx, which one is going to get me the biggest bang for my buck in terms of the amount of ozone that we can prevent from being formed in the lower atmosphere?'” said atmospheric scientist and co-researcher, Arlene Fiore.