Air Quality:

From space, Earth lights up at night where most people live and work, using fossil fuels for transportation and powering industry. Burning oil, coal, and natural gas releases air pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). High levels of NO2 is harmful to human health, causes acid rain, polluted rivers and lakes, and haze that reduces visibility. NO2 also reacts with other gases and contributes to the formation of unhealthy, ground-level ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors six pollutants at ground stations for their air quality forecasts. The Aura spacecraft monitors five of the six pollutants: nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and aerosols giving a complete global view.

From space, there is a clear correspondence between the lights at night and air pollution. There is also pollution from agricultural clearning and forest fires that do not correspond to the lights at night. Strong seasonal patterns in NO2 levels result from the longer pollutant lifetime in winter because of colder temperatures. Some examples of human-produced pollution include: Los Angeles smog, smog over the US East Coast (I-96 corridor), slash-and-burn deforestation over Central and South America, pollution over China, haze over India and Bangladesh from fire and burning fossil fuels, West Africa fires and smoke from agricultural clearing, smog over Europe.

air pollution around the worlds

More people and industry correspond to increasing NO2 and degraded air quality in places like China and India with growing populations and development. Between 2004 and 2014 emissions controls successfully decreased NO2 in some areas, such as the US and Europe.

Natural air pollution can be caused by volcanoes, sand storms and fires started by lightning.

Download video for Science On a Sphere

 

References:

NASA Air Quality Quiz

New NASA images highlight US air quality improvement

NASA Earth Observatory feature: A clearer view of hazy skies

NASA Aura Mission Air Quality

Today's Air Quality Index Forecast (US only)

Air Quality: A Tale of Three Cities

 

Satellite Information:

NASA Aura's Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI)

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