NASA has unveiled the inaugural maps from its groundbreaking space-based pollution monitoring tool, TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution), marking a significant leap forward in the study of North American air quality. While the initial findings, showing higher pollution rates in urban areas, may not be surprising, the tool’s ability to provide hourly data will offer scientists an unprecedented level of detail in understanding the health impacts of pollutants at a neighborhood scale. NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, in a press release, underscored the long-term benefits of TEMPO’s data, projecting its positive impacts on communities across the country for decades to come.
Launched in April, the TEMPO instrument orbits 22,000 miles above the equator, taking hourly measurements that shed light on the effects of various pollution sources such as rush-hour traffic, smoke from forest fires, and the impacts of fertilizers in agricultural areas. It does this by measuring sunlight reflected off the Earth’s surface, atmosphere, and clouds, with the absorbed sunlight used to calculate the concentrations of several gases, including nitrogen dioxide. This innovative approach is expected to contribute significantly towards achieving the Biden administration’s climate goals.
NASA’s Space-Based Pollution Instrument Reveals First Maps
NASA has unveiled the first set of data from its innovative space-based pollution monitoring tool, TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution). The data, which shows elevated pollution rates in urban areas, offers an unprecedented capability of studying North American air quality on an hourly basis. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated that communities nationwide would benefit from this groundbreaking data for decades to come.
Unprecedented Monitoring Capabilities
Launched in April, TEMPO orbits 22,000 miles above the equator and enables scientists to assess the health impacts of various pollutants at a neighborhood scale. The instrument can take hourly measurements, shedding light on a range of phenomena such as the effects of rush-hour traffic, smoke and ash from forest fires, and how fertilizer impacts rural regions. TEMPO measures sunlight reflected off the Earth’s surface, atmosphere, and clouds to calculate the concentrations of several gases in the air, including nitrogen dioxide.
A Collaborative Effort for Cleaner Air
NASA has committed to sharing its findings with partner agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Regular hourly operations are set to commence in October, after the initial measurements taken earlier this month and subsequent system calibration. The data is seen as a valuable asset in achieving the Biden administration’s climate goals.
Initial Findings and Future Impact
TEMPO’s first images, captured on August 2nd, highlighted the I-95 corridor in the Northeast, parts of the South, and a section of the Southwest. The maps revealed a high nitrogen dioxide density over cities and suburban areas. According to NASA, these detailed views showed elevated nitrogen dioxide levels over cities in the morning and major highways throughout the day, typically dissipating by midday and rising again during the afternoon rush hour.
Administrator Nelson emphasized the potential impact of this data, stating, "This summer, millions of Americans felt firsthand the effect of smoke from forest fires on our health." He further expressed NASA and the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to making TEMPO data accessible for both everyday Americans and decision-makers to monitor and improve air quality, ultimately benefiting life on Earth.
The launch of TEMPO marks a significant milestone in our ability to monitor and respond to pollution. The data it provides will not only enhance understanding of the effects of various pollutants on our health but will also inform policy and planning for healthier, cleaner communities. As global efforts to combat climate change intensify, tools like TEMPO will undoubtedly play a crucial role in monitoring progress and informing future strategies.