What are the processes controlling air quality?
Agriculture and industrial activity have grown dramatically along with the human population. Consequently, in parts of the world, increased emissions of pollutants have significantly degraded air quality. Respiratory problems and even premature death due to air pollution occur in urban and some rural areas of both the industrialized and developing countries. Wide-spread burning for agricultural purposes (biomass burning) and forest fires also contribute to poor air quality, particularly in the tropics. The list of culprits in the degradation of air quality includes tropospheric ozone, which is a toxic gas, and the chemicals that form ozone. These ozone precursors are nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, methane, and other hydrocarbons. Human activities such as biomass burning, inefficient coal combustion, other industrial activities, and vehicular traffic all produce ozone precursors.
Long-Range Pollution Transport
The atmosphere can transport pollutants long distances from their source. Satellite measurements by EOS Terra’s Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument have shown carbon monoxide streams extending almost 18,000 km from their source. NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) has tracked dust and smoke events from Northern China to the east coast of the United States.
MODIS July 7, 2002 image shows smoke streaming southward from forest fires in Canda.
What will Aura do?
The Aura instruments are designed to study tropospheric chemistry. Together Aura’s instruments provide global monitoring of air pollution on a daily basis. They measure five of the six EPA criteria pollutants (all except lead). Aura will provide data of suitable accuracy to improve industrial emission inventories, and also to help distinguish between industrial and natural sources. Because of Aura, we will be able to improve air quality forecast models. For details about how Aura's individual instruments contribute to understanding air quality, please see the "Aura's Instruments" section of this Fact Sheet.