Summer in the city can often mean sweltering "bad air days" that threaten the health of the elderly, children and those with respiratory problems. This summer the nation's capitol has been no stranger to such severe air-quality alerts.
But since early July Washington area skies have been put under a unique microscope as scientists from NASA and around the country assembled a powerful array of scientific instruments -- in space and on the ground -- to dissect the region's atmosphere. The result will be not only a better understanding of intense urban air pollution episodes but also a better toolkit to track and probe air pollution worldwide from space.
Two years ago NASA launched the third of its major Earth Observing System satellites -- Aura -- carrying a group of instruments designed to take global measurements of air pollution on a daily basis. Aura sensors can detect five of the six air pollutants regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But to make these 400-mile-high readings as accurate as possible, data from the sophisticated Aura instruments need to be compared to data from tried-and-true sensors on Earth.
NASA is sponsoring just such a "ground-truth" experiment this summer. Howard University Research Campus, Beltsville, Md., is hosting visiting scientists, graduate students and instruments for a six-week-long series of intensive observations. The experiment is also evaluating the next generation of instruments used in daily weather forecasting, as well as tracking one of the strongest greenhouse gases involved in climate change: water vapor, which at increased levels we feel as humidity.
The Beltsville research facility grew out of collaborations between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Howard University in Washington.
The site is dotted with instruments from the National Weather Service, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and a local televisio
Contact: Rob Gutro
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center