New Technology: Satellite that Measures Pollution from Fires

By Valerie Smock, Broadcaster
8/18/2011 12:15:11 PM

Pollution can be seen in everyday life simply by looking at the back of a car as exhaust comes out of the tailpipe or smoke billowing from a smoke stack at a factory.

While you may be able to see smoke from a fire, there are parts of the pollution that you may not notice, but technology can.

NASA's Aura Satellite has shown views of nitrogen dioxide levels that were produced by fires in New Mexico and Arizona this year, according to an article from EurekAlert. The Las Conchas, Wallow and Donaldson fires in New Mexico and Arizona all created NO2 levels detectable by an instrument aboard the satellite.

The images are from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument, also known as the OMI.

This image from the OMI instrument on NASA's Aura satellite shows nitrogen dioxide levels from June 27 to 29, 2011, in New Mexico and Arizona pertaining to three large fires. The highest levels of NO2 were from the Las Conchas fire (red). The NO2 is measured by the number of molecules in a cubic centimeter. (Photo courtesy NASA/James Acker)

The article states that detecting NO2 levels is important because it reacts with sunlight to create low-level ozone or smog, resulting in poor air quality.

"We're all familiar with carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas changing the global climate. But nitrogen dioxide is one of the other important ones," said David Biello, Associate Editor of Environment and Energy for Scientific American. "So, getting a better understanding of its levels will help us to address the challenge of climate change."

According to NASA, the OMI can distinguish between smoke, dust and sulfates. It measures cloud pressure and coverage, which provides data to derive tropospheric ozone.

The EurekAlert article explained the images were showing NO2 levels at the end of June. It went on to say the highest levels of NO2 were from the Las Conchas fire.

"The Aura Satellite will also provide insight into... the other constituents of the atmosphere and allow us to get a better overall picture of how they're changing and how that's affecting global climate and other issues," said Biello.

According to the article, low-level ozone, or smog, is hazardous to the health of animals, plants and humans. If people are exposed to ozone in association with particulate matter, respiratory problems are possible.

By Valerie Smock, Broadcaster