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Aura Shows Human Fingerprint on Global Air Quality

Video Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Video Credit: American Geophysical Union

Using new, high-resolution global satellite maps of air quality indicators, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends over the last decade in various regions and 195 cities around the globe. The United States, Europe and Japan have improved air quality thanks to emission control regulations, while China, India and the Middle East, with their fast-growing economies and expanding industry, have seen more air pollution.

Scientist Bryan Duncan and his team examined observations made from 2005 to 2014 by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard NASA's Aura satellite. One of the atmospheric gases the instrument detects is nitrogen dioxide, a yellow-brown gas that is a common emission from cars, power plants and industrial activity. Nitrogen dioxide can quickly transform into ground-level ozone, a major respiratory pollutant in urban smog. Nitrogen dioxide hotspots, used as an indicator of general air quality, occur over most major cities in developed and developing nations.

"These changes in air quality patterns aren't random," said Bryan Duncan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the research. "When governments step in and say we're going to build something here or we're going to regulate this pollutant, you see the impact in the data."

NASA Feature: New NASA Satellite Maps Show Human Fingerprint on Global Air Quality

Air pollution's rise and fall is a hallmark of industrialization, economic activity, and even civil unrest — and it can have far reaching effects on human health and the environment. Now, NASA has produced the first high-resolution global map of air quality. In this briefing, scientists will discuss the evolving human impact on air pollutants from 2005 to 2014.

The findings were presented December 14, 2015 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.