NASA Says Air Quality Improving, Plans for Climate Satellite


NASA is making plans to launch a new climate satellite after saying the quality of air is improving. The new announcement comes five years after another satellite failed to break orbit after launching from California. The satellite in question failed to eject its payload, and the extra weight dragged it back down through the atmosphere.

Earlier this week, a NASA satellite named Aura was able to conclude on average a 40% decrease in nitrogen dioxide through use of its Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) to measure air pollutants. Nitrogen dioxide is a relatively common chemical compound generated in the burning of coal and gasoline. The compound can affect the respiratory system, causing additional problems for those already having difficulties breathing. However, measures have been taken across the country in recent years to both improve gas mileage and reduce the exhaust of nitrogen dioxide from power plants, which could in part be used to support NASA’s findings.

California, notorious for its levels of air pollution, has seen a drastic increase in visibility. San Diego in particular has been experiencing reductions in smog. Devon Boyd, a resident of San Diego, said, “On a clear day I can see all the way out to the mountains and that’s really beautiful.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations in place to monitor the use of nitrogen dioxide, as it is one of six pollutants which can potentially have adverse effects on human health. These strict regulations have led to the reduction of air pollution even though contributing factors such as population and the number of vehicles in production have increased. The EPA also reports millions of individuals are still living in areas of the US suffering from extreme levels of air pollution. Additionally, the United States is not the only country under concern, as high levels of toxins have been reported in various areas of the globe.

While NASA says the quality of air is improving, the agency is still making plans to launch a new climate satellite in order to monitor the situation. The replacement, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), is scheduled for launch Tuesday. The mission will be entirely dedicated to the study of carbon dioxide, which is the main culprit in climate change. While carbon dioxide is always present in the atmosphere to some degree, the amount expelled by human beings is immense.

OCO-2’s mission will be to use its instruments to determine where levels of carbon dioxide are being absorbed and released. This is only the first stage in a potential new program which will incorporate five additional satellites dubbed by NASA the A-Train constellation. The agency’s end goal is to have the network of satellites in a continuous orbit around Earth monitoring levels of toxins in the air. NASA is also making efforts to continue Discover-AQ, which is an ongoing airborne mission comparing data taken from satellites with information from the ground. The plans to launch the new climate satellite are well underway after NASA said the quality of air is improving.

By Sam Williams

Florida Today

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