Planes, ships and ground stations working together to study pollutionView gallery - 2 images
Next week, an international effort between NASA and the Republic of Korea's National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) will see the two bodies working together on an ambitious, six-week set of observations designed to improve our understanding of air pollution. The project will include the use of three planes housing 37 different instruments, and more than 300 ground sites, working together to gather data that help in the development of new solution to combat poor air quality across the globe.
Air pollution isn't just an unpleasant inconvenience, but a serious and global health issue. According to the World Health Organization, around 3.7 million deaths every year are linked to air pollution, which can cause respiratory issues, heart disease and cancer.
The new project, known as the Korea United States Air Quality study (KORUS-AQ) aims to improve our understanding of the different factors that play a part in poor air quality, both human and natural, with the goal of designing new strategies to improve the situation.
One of the main components of the project will be the use of two NASA aircraft – a DC-8 and a Beechcraft UC-12B King Air – joining forces with a Korean King Air to undertake 15 days of coordinated observations.
Carrying more than 30 instruments, the aircraft will measure atmospheric gases, solar radiation and more. That data will be combined with information gathered from more than 300 air-quality station across the country, located in both rural and urban areas.
That's already a lot of data, but the 293 scientists working on the project will have even more information to process, comparing the results with measurements form Earth-observing satellites. Finally, a complementary mission called KORUS-Ocean Color (KORUS-OC) will see two research ships studying the air and water around the country, looking at the chemical composition of the water, and taking daily measurements of phytoplankton.
Why South Korea? Well, according to the researchers, the combination of data from the concentrated population of Seoul, combined with that from rural farming regions will provide scientists with an extremely useful set of data, allowing for the study of both natural and human emissions. It also provides the opportunity to study pollution transported over longer distances, from China.
The data won't just improve our understanding of air pollution, but will also help inform the development of several future satellites. NASA's Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) and NIER's Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS) are both set to launch in the next few years, providing detailed observations of air quality over both North America and East Asia.
For more on the KORUS-AQ project, you can take a look at the video below.