Hugues Brenot & Huan Yu
Global map of the distribution of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), 2015
Map derived from measurements from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA's AURA satellite for the period 2005-2010
Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy
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Polluting gases mapped by the OMI satellite instrument

It is currently possible to effectively map the sources of polluting gases, both manmade and natural, with the help of satellite measurements. Most of the satellite instruments that measure these gases observe the entire surface of the Earth within a period of one to several days. The measurement principle is based on the diffraction of sunlight, reflected by the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, into a spectrum of colour components or wavelengths. The variations in light intensity based on the wavelength provides information about the gases that are present in the atmosphere.

Continuously measuring the amount of these gases in the atmosphere is important for monitoring the evolution of pollution in inhabited areas (industry, traffic), verifying international agreement on the limitation of emissions and better understanding the role of these gases in the process of climate change.

In preparation for the ESA satellite mission Sentinel-5 Precursor (S5-P), to be launched in late 2016, experts from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) worked on high quality data products for pollutant gases, derived from measurements by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI, launched in 2004) that is on-board the NASA AURA-satellite.

The images show the results for the gases nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and formaldehyde (HCHO), with an indication of their major sources (including both natural origins and human activity). They provide a clear picture of the type of detail that the current generation of satellite instruments can provide in mapping the amount of gases present. The smallest details in the OMI measurements are 13x24 km2. For the instrument TROPOMI, on-board the S5-P, this will be 3.5x7 km2, so that it will become possible to identify the sources of pollution within a specific city.

The images can be downloaded and may be used freely for non-commercial purposes (except for scientific publications). In the case of public presentation of any form whatsoever, a clearly visible attribution should be included stating that the data come from the UV-VIS/DOAS-group at BIRA-IASB.

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