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Air Quality Remote Sensing Program: Background

NOAA operational satellites, since their inception in the 1970s, have been serving the need to monitor the Earth's environment (e.g., Antarctic ozone hole) and climate (e.g., stratospheric ozone trends). While these needs continue to be met, NOAA's mission has expanded to include monitoring and forecasting air quality. Continuing detrimental impacts of air pollution (ozone and PM2.5) on human health and economy led the U.S. Congress to issue various mandates to the EPA and NOAA to combat and mitigate pollution. To meet the mandates, NOAA and EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in 2003. The MOU calls for developing and deploying an operational air quality forecast system capable of issuing nationwide hourly air quality forecasts of ozone by 2007 and PM2.5 by 2014.

The NWS has begun issuing operational ozone forecasts and experimental PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5µm in diameter) forecasts in the northeast in 2004 using the Eta-CMAQ (Community Multiscale Air Quality Modeling) system. The MOA calls for cooperation in air quality research between NOAA and EPA by developing methods for using observations to improve predictions of air quality. NESDIS has begun supporting the MOA by providing near- real-time data such as ozone and aerosols to the NWS for operational air quality and UV Index forecasting applications. The assimilation of satellite measurements of physical parameters (e.g., observations of temperature and moisture) into numerical weather prediction models to improve weather forecasts has grown tremendously in the last two decades and has proven to have a positive impact on weather forecasts. Satellite chemical data assimilation, on the other hand, is still in its infancy, especially since both operational air quality forecast systems and satellite sensor technology capable of measuring boundary layer pollutants are still evolving. While the ability to measure various tropospheric pollutants at the desired spatial resolution, temporal resolution, and accuracy remains a challenge, the need to exploit the measurements from current and soon-to-be launched sensors to monitor and improve air quality forecasting is imminent. NOAA / NESDIS is actively involved in using research satellite data (e.g., EOS Aura OMI and Aqua/Terra MODIS) to demonstrate the capabilities of enhanced sensors and prepare NOAA and its users for Initial Joint Polar- Orbiting Operational Satellite System (IJPS), NPOESS, and GOES-R datasets.

smoke from a forest fire

Smoke from a Forest Fire


industrial smoke stacks

Industrial Smokestacks

EUMETSAT is launching the GOME-2 and IASI instruments, which are capable of measuring trace gases and aerosols, into a polar orbit with 9:30 AM equator crossing time. Products from these instruments are available as part of the IJPS. NPOESS will have OMPS and CrIS sensors with similar capabilities and will fly with a 1:30 PM equator crossing time. The IJPS (~2006 and beyond) and NPP / NPOESS(~2009 and beyond) systems are expected to provide continuous monitoring of trace gases and aerosols into the 2020s.

Together, these sensors will have a capability to measure tropospheric column amounts of trace gases (ozone, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc.) in addition to aerosol products at spatial resolutions similar to forecast models. Routine observations on such high spatial and temporal scales cannot be matched by any ground observations and are critical for monitoring and assimilation applications. NOAA / NESDIS is currently developing GOME-2 ozone products for near real time dissemination to users (Table 1).

The ABI and the HES instruments on the next generation Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellite (GOES)-R will provide unprecedented information on air quality. Plans are currently underway to develop various air quality products over the Americas at temporal resolution ranging from five to 60 minutes for the imager and sounder respectively.These products are expected to become operational after the launch of GOES-R in 2013 (Table 2).


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