Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 21 April 2023

Monitor air pollution from space

Source: By Deutsche Welle

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from Florida on 7 April 2023, carrying a new NASA device that can track air pollution over North America.

The Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument will allow scientists to monitor air pollutants and their emission sources from space more comprehensively than ever before, down to the neighborhood level.

According to Kevin Daugherty, NASA’s TEMPO project manager, the instrument will measure pollution and air quality across greater North America on an hourly basis during the daytime, all the way “from Puerto Rico up to the tar sands of Canada.”

The data will be used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies responsible for tackling atmospheric pollution.

Why is TEMPO so special?

“The TEMPO mission is about more than just studying pollution — it’s about improving life on Earth for all,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

By monitoring the effects of everything from rush-hour traffic to pollution from forest fires and volcanoes, NASA data will help improve air quality across North America and protect our planet,” he added.

unique feature of TEMPO, which is about the size of a washing machine and has been described as a chemistry laboratory in space, is that it will be hosted on an Intelsat communications satellite in geostationary orbit.

Existing pollution-monitoring satellites are in low Earth orbit, which means they can only provide observations once a day at a fixed time. TEMPO will be able to measure atmospheric pollution down to a spatial resolution of 4 square miles (10 square kilometers), or neighborhood level.

What is geostationary orbit?

Geostationary orbit is a common orbit for weather satellites and communications satellites, but an air quality instrument measuring gases hadn’t been there yet,” Caroline Nowlan, an atmospheric physicist at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, explained to news agency AFP.

In a geostationary orbit 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the equatorTEMPO will match the rotation of the Earth, meaning it will stay over the same location — North America — at all times.

“The great thing about TEMPO is that for the first time we’ll be able to make hourly measurements over North America, so we’ll be able to see what’s happening over a whole day as long as the sun is up,” Nowlan added.

TEMPO will have multiple applications from measuring levels of various pollutants to providing air quality forecasts and helping the development of emission-control strategies.

Why is the mission important?

More than 40 per cent of the US population, 137 million people, lives in places with unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone, according to the American Lung Association. Air pollution is blamed for some 60,000 premature deaths a year. Among the pollutants tracked by TEMPO will be nitrogen dioxide, produced from the combustion of fossil fuelsformaldehyde and ozone.

The data will be made available online for members of the public to monitor air quality information in their local area. Daugherty said TEMPO will power up at the end of May or in early June and begin producing data in October, although it will not be made available to the public until April of next year.