Air Quality Forecasts See Future in Space12.13.07 Weather broadcasts have long been a staple for people planning their day. Now with the help of NASA satellites, researchers are working to broaden daily forecasts to include predictions of air quality, a feat that is becoming reality in some parts of the world.
Some scientists predict that an operational system of routine, global forecasts of air pollution near the ground, where it affects human health, is only a few years away. Such a system could prove useful in efforts to improve air quality, assess the effectiveness of environmental regulations and address the challenge of climate change. Advances in air quality monitoring and forecasts are being discussed this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Regional modeling is already getting quite meaningful," says Richard Engelen of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, United Kingdom. He notes that air quality forecasts are now possible up to a few days in advance in Europe where there has been a concerted effort to combine atmospheric composition data from satellites and ground stations into the existing backbone of weather forecast computer models.
The European project – the Global and Regional Earth-system (Atmosphere) Monitoring Using Satellite and In-Situ Data project – is currently in the experimental stage. In the United States, planning for the application of satellite data in regional air quality forecast model is underway at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But for forecasts to become more accurate and global, researchers need more and better observations, Engelen says. That's where NASA satellites are helping to fill in the gaps.
"To really do an accurate job of forecasting air quality, you have to know what pollution is coming in from upwind," says Kenneth Pickering of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., who studies the chemistry and movement of gases through the atmosphere.