NASA Ames AJAX Project Supports Airborne Campaign Over San Joaquin Valley
Earth science researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., are supporting the DISCOVER-AQ mission currently taking place this month over the San Joaquin Valley, Calif. Flights will explore the lower portion of the atmosphere to gather atmospheric data to validate satellite sensors readings that could dramatically improve the understanding of climate change and air pollution.
The NASA Ames AJAX (Alpha Jet Atmospheric eXperiment) Project will fly several flights to complement the measurements made by NASA's Lockheed P-3B and Beechcraft 200 King Air as part of the DISCOVER-AQ campaign. The Alpha Jet will focus on the northern portion of the San Joaquin Valley, while the two other aircraft will fly over the southern reaches of the Valley. Its measurements of ozone, carbon dioxide, and methane will extend the measurements being taken by the two other aircraft. One flight was flown yesterday in the San Francisco Bay Area, which also included data collecting for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
“DISCOVER-AQ will help scientists collect the data needed to improve air-quality observations from space. We are pleased to help extend this work into the northern portion of the Central Valley,” says Laura Iraci, the project manager for the AJAX project and research scientist at Ames.
Also known as the Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality, the purpose of DISCOVER-AQ is to improve the use of satellites to monitor air quality for public health and environmental benefit. The goal is to collect data from multiple altitudes, including measurements from surface and tower-based observations collected elsewhere in the region. .
Once collected, the data will be compared to observations made from space-based instruments to help distinguish high-altitude pollution from near-ground-surface pollution. Five AJAX flights targeted in support of DISCOVER-AQ have been performed to date: three assessed cross-valley gradients, one evaluated background air coming from the northern valley and/or the Sierra Mountains in California and Nevada, and one focused on the Bay Area’s offshore air.
When the mission is completed, the AJAX data will be compared with measurements taken elsewhere in the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley and will be analyzed using computer models to predict air quality in California. “The combination of airborne data with satellite observations and air quality models will give us a whole new understanding of wintertime pollution in our local area,” says Iraci.
In 2007, a Space Act Agreement between NASA Ames Research Center and H211, LLC began a relationship that ultimately led to the formation of the Alpha Jet Atmospheric eXperiment (AJAX) Project. Atmospheric measurement flights began in 2011 and AJAX is currently performing regular missions to measure ozone and greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane over California and Nevada.
Unlike most atmospheric airborne research missions, the AJAX project allows Ames to collect data on a regular basis over multiple seasons, which will complement surface and tower-based observations collected elsewhere in the region. It also provides validation data for satellite sensors over months and years, to help assess the sensor health and calibration over its lifetime.
Remote-sensing satellites have become essential tools for weather forecasting and resource monitoring and, given the right set of instruments, researchers believe future spacecraft could also dramatically improve the understanding of climate change and air pollution.
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Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.