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Breath of the dragon: ERS-2 and Envisat reveal impact of economic growth on China's air quality

China's spectacular economic growth during the last decade has brought many benefits and some challenges. Global atmospheric mapping of nitrogen dioxide pollution performed by ERS-2's GOME and Envisat's SCIAMACHY reveals the world's largest amount of NO2 hanging above Beijing and northeast China, as reported in Nature this week.

As part of ESA's Dragon Programme, European and Chinese researchers are using results returned from the Global Ozone Mapping Experiment (GOME) on ERS-2 and the Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (SCIAMACHY) on Envisat to monitor and forecast Chinese air quality.

In this context, researchers at the University of Bremen, the Max-Planck Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg and France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) have been studying the retrieval of nitrogen dioxide variability from space and modelling its global behaviour.

The team have published an article in the 1 September 2005 edition of the science journal Nature about the global changes in nitrogen dioxide observed in the last decade from space and highlighted the dramatic changes over China.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is associated with nitrogen oxide (NO) in the atmosphere and the sum of the two is called NOX. This is released into the troposphere from power plants, heavy industry and road transport, along with biomass burning, lightning in the atmosphere and microbial activity in the soil. The emission of nitrogen oxides has increased about six-fold since pre-industrial times and in cities above a thousand times more NOX is present than in the pristine and remote marine boundary layer.

Exposure to nitrogen dioxide in large quantities is known to cause lung damage and respiratory problems, although little is known about the consequences of long term exposure to elevated atmospheric amounts. The presence of this gas is a significant driver of the production of low-level ozone, which, within t
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
European Space Agency
1-Sep-2005


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