Science & Technology

New NASA device can give real-time, highly accurate air quality data from space for North America

Cutting-edge device will be essential for comprehending the primary air pollutants’ origins, distribution and effects

By Prakriti Panda
Published: Thursday 13 April 2023
TEMPO is hosted on a commercial communication satellite, Intelsat 40E. photo: NASA

A new piece of technology by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) might be a game changer for air quality monitoring and reveal disparities in pollution exposure. The cutting-edge device to monitor air pollution in North America with unparalleled accuracy was launched April 7, 2023. 

Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) was launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, hosted by Intelsat 40e (IS-40e), a geosynchronous satellite that relies on spot-beam technology. 

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This tool will address contaminants such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde and aerosols that are known to have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

The device uses UV-Vis spectroscopy, which calculates the concentrations of atmospheric pollutants by measuring the sunlight reflected and absorbed by air contaminants.

TEMPO will collect data in real-time by scanning the Earth’s atmosphere from space, identifying pollution hotspots, following pollution transport and evaluating the efficacy of emission reduction methods.

Outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Policymakers can use information from the new technology to establish targeted measures to reduce pollution and safeguard people’s health.

The device will deliver vital information on air pollution in almost real-time, according to NASA.

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Using TEMPO’s high-resolution data, scientists can identify vulnerable groups and locations disproportionately affected by air pollution. This will help them better understand air pollution’s geographical and temporal patterns. 

The technology was created by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder programme and will be essential for comprehending the primary air pollutants’ origins, distribution and effects.

The advanced features of TEMPO are anticipated to usher in a new era of air pollution monitoring, giving experts, decision-makers and stakeholders the crucial data they need to make informed decisions on managing air quality and environmental policies. 

Additionally, TEMPO’s data will aid in attempts to evaluate the success of rules governing air quality and emission reduction strategies.

This invention will contribute to creating ecological policies and regulations based on scientific data to reduce air pollution and its harmful environmental impact.

A comprehensive picture of the atmosphere will be possible owing to TEMPO’s capacity to track several contaminants simultaneously.

Scientists will be able to examine the complex chemistry of air pollutants, their transformations and their effects on climate and air quality using the data from TEMPO, which will help them better understand the environmental processes and feedback linked to air pollution.

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TEMPO is limited to observing air pollution in the troposphere, the Earth’s lowest layer of the atmosphere. It might not fully capture the pollution levels in the upper atmosphere or an indoor setting. 

Additionally, TEMPO’s coverage is restricted to the North American continent and its data might not be relevant to other parts of the world.

However, TEMPO will offer valuable data for understanding the root causes, distribution and impact of air pollution, supporting evidence-based policies and strategies to mitigate pollution and safeguard human health.

It can also help preserve the environment owing to its high-resolution data, real-time monitoring capabilities and capacity to measure multiple pollutants at once.

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