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NASA Satellites Track Global Pollution from China to Western US

First-ever satellite-based estimate of pollution aerosols transport!

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First-ever satellite-based estimate of pollution aerosols transport!

Early this decade, scientists began using emerging high-accuracy satellite data to answer key questions about the role tiny particles play in the atmosphere, and eventually expanded their research to include continent-to-continent pollution transport. A Chinese scientist, Hongbin Yu teamed with other researchers to take advantage of the innovations in satellite technology and has now made the first-ever satellite-based estimate of pollution aerosols transported from East Asia to North America.

NASA's Terra Satellite Tracks Pollutants

The new measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite substantiate the results of previous model-based studies, and are the most extensive to date. The new study will be published this spring in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

Hongbin Yu, an associate research scientist of the University of Maryland Baltimore County working at NASA�s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., grew up in China and taught there as a university professor, where he witnessed first-hand and studied how pollution from nearby power plants in China affected the local environment.

Pollution Aerosols Transported from East Asia to North America

Yu teamed with other researchers to take advantage of the innovations in satellite technology and has now made the first-ever satellite-based estimate of pollution aerosols transported from East Asia to North America.

The new measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite substantiate the results of previous model-based studies, and are the most extensive to date. The new study will be published this spring in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

"We used the latest satellite capabilities to distinguish industrial pollution and smoke from dust transported to the western regions of North America from East Asia. Looking at four years of data from 2002 to 2005 we estimated the amount of pollution arriving in North America to be equivalent to about 15 percent of local emissions of the U.S. and Canada," Yu said. "This is a significant percentage at a time when the U.S. is trying to decrease pollution emissions to boost overall air quality. This means that any reduction in our emissions may be offset by the pollution aerosols coming from East Asia and other regions."

Pollution Also Flows from Europe, North America, and the Broader Asian Region

Yu points out, however, that the matter of pollution transport is a global one. "Our study focused on East Asian pollution transport, but pollution also flows from Europe, North America, the broader Asian region and elsewhere, across bodies of water and land, to neighboring areas and beyond," he said. "So we should not simply blame East Asia for this amount of pollution flowing into North America."

In a model study published last November in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Mian Chin, also a co-author of this study and an atmospheric scientist at NASA Goddard, suggests that European pollution also makes a significant contribution to the pollution inflow to North America.

Study co-author Lorraine Remer, a physical scientist and member of the MODIS science team at NASA Goddard, added that the research team also found that pollution movements fluctuate during the year, with the East Asian airstream carrying its largest 'load' in spring and smallest in summer. The most extensive East Asian export of pollution across the Pacific took place in 2003, triggered by record-breaking wildfires across vast forests of East Asia and Russia.

Notably, the pollution aerosols also travel quickly. They cross the ocean and journey into the atmosphere above North American in as little as one week.

SOURCE: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, 2008

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| air quality | nasa |

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