Editorial Feature

Tracking Air Pollution in Space: The TEMPO Satellite Initiative

Monitoring air quality is crucial to understanding the impact of industrial emissions, and sensors are a central technology in this endeavor. This article will explore TEMPO, a new space-based system that provides scientists with key air pollution data.

Tracking Air Pollution in Space: The TEMPO Satellite Initiative

Image Credit: Anton Balazh/Shutterstock.com

What is TEMPO and Why Was it Created?

TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution) is a space-based air quality and pollution monitoring probe installed on a geostationary telecommunications satellite. Launched on April 7, 2023, TEMPO entered orbit onboard Intelsat 40e. This project is a collaboration between NASA and the Smithsonian Institution.

Around 7 million deaths occur every year from poor air quality, according to the WHO. Health complications such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and strokes have all been linked to air pollution in urban areas. TEMPO will help researchers better understand how human activity impacts the natural world.

What Does TEMPO Hope to Achieve?

A part of NASA’s Earth Venture Instrument program, TEMPO complements NASA’s current missions to understand the impact of industrialized society on the atmosphere and natural environment, enabling researchers to improve monitoring and emission-control strategies.

The Earth Venture Instrument program is part of NASA’s wider Earth System Science Pathfinder program. By leveraging the power of TEMPO and other upcoming projects, NASA aims to provide publicly available near real-time air quality forecasting products that will improve the health of billions and the environment.

Questions TEMPO seeks to answer how spatial and temporal emissions impact the climate and air quality, how atmospheric processes determine urban to continental-scale air quality and tropospheric composition, and how air quality forecasts can be improved using space-based measurement systems.

Other dynamic factors that can be measured by TEMPO include the effects of lightning on ozone, how pollution moves across continents from forest fires, and even the effects of agricultural activity, such as fertilizer use, on the atmosphere.

How Does TEMPO Involve the Use of Sensor Technologies?

Integrated sensors are key to the success of the TEMPO mission. The onboard sensors measure reflected sunlight by monitoring the North American continent from a geostationary orbit, separating sunlight into two thousand component wavelengths and feeding it back to detectors.

East-West scans are performed hourly in the satellite’s Field of Regard, which covers the North American continent. Sub-hourly scans up to every 5-10 minutes over specifically targeted portions of the Field of Regard will be possible using TEMPO’s onboard grated spectrometry sensors.

TEMPO uses a grating spectrometer to measure air quality with a spectral band of 290-740 nm and at a resolution of 0.6 nm. Sensitive to ultraviolet and visible light wavelengths, sensors will measure UVB radiation, NO2, ozone, SO2, and other atmospheric chemistry over a daily cycle.

Sub-urban scale pollution tracking is possible with TEMPO due to high optical resolution, at the scale of just a few square miles per pixel. These capabilities make TEMPO a significant advancement in researchers’ capacity to monitor the effects of industry and urban areas on the Earth’s atmosphere.

How Does TEMPO Compare to Existing Projects?

The launch of TEMPO comes at a time when other projects are being developed and implemented to measure global air quality and understand the impact of modern society on the natural world.

One of the main benefits that TEMPO provides is the groundbreaking spatial resolution of just tens of miles and temporal resolution, further aided by the host satellite’s geostationary orbit. Current projects such as GOME, SCIAMACHY, and OMI have provided atmospheric data from polar orbit.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) currently has a network of satellites that monitor global air quality. The sensors onboard these spacecraft track aerosols released from wildfires and dust storms. However, their ability to detect other aerosols is limited.

TEMPO can detect and monitor aerosols such as formaldehyde, NO2, and SO2, which can react to form ozone and airborne particles, significantly enhancing monitoring capabilities compared to current weather satellites. Gases and particles can be detected and analyzed with high temporal and spatial resolution.

In short, TEMPO is a highly useful addition to the current suite of air pollution and air quality monitoring systems, and has the potential to revolutionize this field of science.

In Summary

Human activity has historically had a profound impact on the natural environment and the atmosphere, with the effects of industrial activity and climate change now becoming patently clear to researchers and governments.

Monitoring and measuring spatial and temporal air quality and pollution data is essential to improve climate forecasting, significantly reducing health impacts that kill and debilitate millions of people worldwide each year. Furthermore, it will provide a roadmap to reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero.

TEMPO, the first project in NASA’s Earth Venture Instrument program, will provide near real-time spatial and temporal air quality data across Greater North America. Since its launch in April of 2023, TEMPO has provided researchers with key data with the release of the first air pollution map images covering North America.

This trailblazing space-based geostationary monitoring system, using grated spectrometry sensors, significantly improves heritage systems. TEMPO is paving the way for future air high-resolution, near real-time global air pollution monitoring projects.

See More: The Future of Sensors for Detecting Air Pollution in Cities

References and Further Reading

TEMPO (homepage) Available at: https://tempo.si.edu/index.html

NASA (2023) NASA Shares First Images from US Pollution-Monitoring Instrument [online] nasa.gov. Available at: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-shares-first-images-from-us-pollution-monitoring-instrument/

Pultarova, T (2023) Watch new NASA sensor measure US air pollution from space in real time (video) [online] space.com. Available at: https://www.space.com/new-nasa-satellite-real-time-air-pollution-maps

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.


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