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Volume 46 | Issue 6 | July 2004

Research Roundup


INTEX Global Air Quality Mission is Under Way

photo: DC-8.
NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory takes off from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, during NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign in March. The DC-8 is currently engaged in a mission measuring movement of air pollution around the globe.
NASA Photo / Jim Ross

By Renee Juhans and Beth Hagenauer
NASA Headquarters and Dryden Public Affairs

In a combined air-quality and climate study, NASA and other U.S. and international agencies this summer will measure the movements of pollution around the globe. The first phase of the two-part experiment began in July and will continue through Aug. 19.

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lead the team of scientists conducting observations, as part of the New England Air Quality Study, to track the path of polluting gases and aerosols traveling from North America to Europe. The University of New Hampshire, Durham, is a partner on a broader experiment called the Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment-North America.

INTEX-NA objectives include identifying the quantity of gas and aerosols that flows from North America to the Atlantic Ocean, understanding the gases' transport and chemical changes over the ocean and assessing the global impact of the flow on air quality and climate. The detailed observations made possible by INTEX-NA will support enhanced validation of data from NASA's Terra and Aqua and the European Space Agency's Envisat satellites.

The experiment will quantify the North American import and export of ozone and associated pollutant gases, aerosols and long-lived greenhouse gases. Scientists will make sensitive measurements from airplanes, satellites, balloons and ground-based networks. Researchers will use sophisticated models to analyze data to propose a big-picture view of pollutant transport, transformation and impact on air quality and climate.

According to lead scientist Dr. Hanwant Singh of Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., "This effort is important because it's the first time a coordinated worldwide campaign has been launched to establish a benchmark reading from which global atmospheric policies can be developed."

The principal NASA aircraft being used in the study, a DC-8, is equipped as a flying laboratory carrying a suite of highly sensitive instruments.

"This particularly large suite emphasizes the DC-8's unique ability to collect data from multiple, complex instruments on a single aircraft while crossing continental-scale air masses," said Bob Curry, DC-8 mission manager.

The flights will originate at Dryden, where the DC-8 is based, at MidAmerica Airport, St. Louis, and Pease International Tradeport, Portsmouth, N.H. Complementing the DC-8, as many as 12 other aircraft will be flown over North America and the Atlantic in the data-gathering effort.

NASA satellites will provide large-scale context for the airborne observations. Observations of carbon monoxide made from the Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere instrument, aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft, and the Aqua spacecraft's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder will show the locations of air polluted by fossil fuel combustion and biomass burning.

"Understanding the transport and transformation of gases and aerosols on transcontinental and intercontinental scales is essential for the scientific understanding of air quality and its relationship to climate change," said Jim Gleason, INTEX-NA program manager.

Scientists will conduct a second field experiment in spring 2006 to study pollution movements from Asia towards North America to determine implications for North American air quality. The timing of the two phases will allow scientists to look for seasonal variations in the global pollution flow.

The INTEX-NA mission is coordinated under the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research on Transport and Transformation. Researchers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and France will conduct concurrent airborne campaigns. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; the U.S. Department of Energy; Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y.; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; and the Meteorological Service of Canada, Quebec, round out the list of INTEX-NA North American partners.

NASA's Earth science enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth system science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

For information and images about this research on the Internet, visit

For information about the INTEX-NA campaign on the Internet, visit

Jana Goldman of NOAA, Silver Spring, Md., contributed to this report.