NASA’s TEMPO space instrument revealing hourly air quality data across North America

Aug 24, 2023, 7:06 PM UTC
4 mins read
NASA's TEMPO space instrument revealing hourly air quality data across North America
(Image credit: NASA)

Have you ever wondered what the air you’re breathing is really like? Well, NASA has just pulled back the curtain on a groundbreaking new tool that’s going to give us all a clearer picture of air pollution. It’s called TEMPO, short for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, and it’s not just any tool — it’s a space-based instrument orbiting 22,000 miles above the equator.

NASA has unleashed the first batch of maps generated by TEMPO, and they’re not your ordinary maps. These visualizations give us a unique insight into pollution patterns across North America. While it might not be shocking to learn that urban areas have higher pollution levels, TEMPO takes it up a notch by providing hourly data. Imagine being able to see how rush-hour traffic, forest fires’ smoke, and even fertilizers impact the air we breathe, hour by hour. It’s like having a microscope on the sky.

TEMPO isn’t just snapping photos from space; it’s analyzing sunlight interacting with Earth’s surface, atmosphere, and clouds. This interaction tells us a lot about the types and amounts of pollutants in the air. Ever heard of nitrogen dioxide? It’s a major player in air pollution, and TEMPO can tell us exactly how much of it is hanging around.

The good news is that NASA isn’t keeping all this valuable data to itself. They’re teaming up with agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make sure everyone benefits. This means that the information TEMPO gathers won’t just sit in a lab — it’ll be used to shape policies and decisions that impact our environment.

Recently, TEMPO treated us to its first set of images. Imagine looking at a map and seeing areas like the I-95 corridor in the Northeast, parts of Texas and New Orleans in the South, and the stretch from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the Southwest. These images show nitrogen dioxide concentrations over these regions, highlighting the impact of human activities and daily routines on pollution levels.

The story these images tell is fascinating. In the morning, you can spot high levels of nitrogen dioxide over cities, and the map shows a spike around major highways. As the day progresses, the morning pollution eases up, only to surge again in the afternoon as another rush hour hits. It’s like TEMPO is revealing the heartbeat of pollution in our urban centers.

Bill Nelson, the head of NASA, sees this as a game-changer. He talks about how this summer, many of us experienced the health effects of forest fire smoke firsthand. TEMPO’s data could help us stay informed about air quality and push us toward cleaner air. It’s not just a tool for scientists; it’s a tool for us, regular folks who want to breathe easier and live healthier lives.

So, next time you look up at the sky, remember that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Thanks to TEMPO, we’re peering into the invisible world of air pollution, and with knowledge comes the power to make positive changes for our planet and ourselves.

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