NASA Satellite Finds 39 Unreported Sources Of Air Pollution

Posted: Jun 2 2016, 3:14am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 2 2016, 9:55pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

NASA Satellite Finds 39 Unreported Sources of Air Pollution
Credits: EPA

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Using a new satellite-based method, researchers have looked at sources of toxic sulfur dioxide gas around the world and uncovered 39 new man-made sources of emissions.

Sulfur dioxide is an air pollutant mainly produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Almost 99% of sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere from human sources.

Recently, NASA has used satellite imagery to detect smaller concentrations and sources of the toxic gas around the world and located 39 major man-made sources that were not reported previously. Together, these new sources generate around 7 to 14 million metric tons of emissions annually.

"We now have an independent measurement of these emission sources that does not rely on what was known or thought known. When you look at a satellite picture of sulfur dioxide, you end up with it appearing as hotspots – bull’s-eyes, in effect -- which makes the estimates of emissions easier.” Lead author Chris McLinden, an atmospheric scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto said in a statement.

Of those 39 new emission sources, a significant number was tracked in the Middle East – a region which is a center of coal-burning power plants and other industrial activities while few sources are based in Mexico and parts of Russia too.

Sulfur dioxide is produced by both man-made and natural sources such as volcanic activity. Although, the gas stays in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time - lasting only few hours - but its presence can have a large impact on regional air quality. The toxic gas can cause multiple harmful effects on health and even alter the overall climate in certain ways.

To more accurately pinpoint emission sources, researchers combined the satellite data with wind information to double check their findings. The speed and direction of wind can help find the location of where the sulfur oxide is coming from. Besides locating human sources, the research team has also identified 75 natural sources of sulfur dioxide which are obviously volcanoes that are not erupting but continuously leaking the toxic gas throughout the year.

The detection of new sources will help scientists to keep an eye on the amount of sulfur dioxide gas being released in the atmosphere and to look at air quality standard associated with it. The current findings will also add in improving climate models and creating result oriented pollution cutting polices.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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