NASA’s Low-Flying Air-Quality Campaign Concludes Phase I

Motorists in the Baltimore-Washington area have one less thing to keep an eye on as of July 30.

NASA’s field study to assess air quality over northeast Maryland has concluded. Over the last month, two research airplanes – one flying high and the other low – completed 14 flight days sampling in coordination with ground sites monitoring air quality. These flights were able to sample pollutants in the lower atmosphere over major interstates, densely populated areas, small towns, and the Chesapeake Bay.

“These flights have allowed us to gather an unprecedented dataset for evaluating the factors governing air quality over the Maryland-DC area,” said Jim Crawford, the mission’s principal investigator, who is based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “We look forward to sharing the data and results over the coming months.”

One of the planes, a NASA P-3B, spiraled over six ground stations in Maryland, flying as low as 1,000 feet and gathering just over 250 soundings. The 117-foot aircraft gathered air-quality data for the mission called DISCOVER-AQ (Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality).

A second aircraft, a UC-12, used a lidar (laser) to observe “profiles” of particulate pollution in the atmosphere, while a second instrument took measurements of gaseous pollution beneath the aircraft flying at 26,000 feet.

The mission measured gaseous and particulate pollution over the populous region to better understand how satellites can be used to improve air-quality forecasts.

By analyzing data from instruments on both airplanes, scientists hope to get a clearer picture of how satellites in space might be used to provide a broader geographical view of air quality near the Earth’s surface beyond what can be provided by ground sites.

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