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NASA launches planes to tackle air pollution

By Laura Brown - 30 Jun 2011 14:18:0 GMT
NASA launches planes to tackle air pollution

Ground level planes will be seen in the sky over Maryland this week as NASA is launches a series of flights aimed at tackling air pollution in America.

Low flying planes will be seen across Maryland in a programme called DISCOVER-AQ which is designed to improve the ability of satellites to measure the ground level air quality on earth from space.

The tests consist of two planes flying over designated areas in the state. One will fly very low, between 1,000 to 1,500 feet where it will be clearly visible to residents and will measure air pollution at ground level. The second will fly at satellite height, around 26,000 and measure pollutants from there.

The route includes sample areas and major roadways and will identify air pollutants like aerosols and ozone precursors. Maryland was chosen as the area is one of the most air polluted regions in the US. The planes will fly between 6am and 8pm, measuring how the level of air pollutants evolve throughout the day.

After a series of test flights the first flight is expected to start on July 1, with another 14 flights scheduled for the month. The progress of the flights can be tracked on the programme website.

NASA hopes the project, part of a four year campaign, will improve the ability of scientists to measure and tackle one of the most challenging problems for earth observation and society as a whole. The data amassed from the scheduled flights it is hoped will help the team track results in terms of specific times and locations enabling scientists to make better forecasts on air quality, identify the sources and determine any fluctuations in the levels of emissions.

The leadership team for DISCOVER-AQ includes investigators from NASA's Langley Research Centre and Goddard Space Flight Centre.

James Crawford, the mission's Principal Investigator based at Langley says, "What we're trying to do with DISCOVER-AQ is to fill the knowledge gap that limits our ability to monitor air pollution with satellites".