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Satellite-based tool to detect airborne pollution

Leicester, UK: Researchers at University of Leicester are using satellites to track the invisible airborne pollutants that determine the air quality and health of our major cities, CNN reported. They are developing a new generation of orbiting sensors which they call “Sciamachy,” a technical acronym that in ancient Greek means “battling shadows.” It will enable mapping of wraith-like chemicals at city level.

“At the moment, from space, we can measure nitrogen dioxide over a whole country or even down to an area, but not yet down to a city. The challenge is actually to build the next generation of the satellites that would be able to measure down to the city scale,” explained Paul Monks, a University of Leicester professor of atmospheric chemistry.

The team of researchers led by Roland Leigh, a climate change technology scientist at the University of Leicester, are developing a tool which will eventually provide an additional dimension to data collected on the planet’s atmosphere by Envisat satellite. It is a 15-year project and they claimed that they are in midway now.

“From 800 kilometres away we can produce maps of London or any major city and we can say where the air quality is good and bad,” Leigh said. Leigh’s project utilises equipment so sensitive that it needs to be assembled in an ultra-sterile room containing 100,000 times fewer atmospheric particles than standard air. Just one speck of dust can ruin delicate optical components.

Monks said, “Studying air quality at street level is crucial to engineering environmental change without throwing global ecosystems out of balance.”

“Air quality is also part of climate change,” he said. According to Monks, a drastic fall in China’s air pollution, for instance, could actually worsen the global warming in the short term as cooling aerosols — small particles that block radiation from the sun — are lost from the atmosphere. Monks calls it a “bumpy road to recovery.”

“What we’re trying to do at the moment is re-understand where the climate change and air quality trade-offs are to produce a win-win scenario,” he added.

Source: CNN