The Center for Atmospheric Sciences | » Utilizing NASA DISCOVER-AQ Data to Examine Spatial Gradients in Complex Emission Environments

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  • Utilizing NASA DISCOVER-AQ Data to Examine Spatial Gradients in Complex Emission Environments

    Although many regulations have been enacted with the goal of improving air quality, many parts of the US are still classified as ‘non-attainment areas’ because they frequently violate federal air quality standards. Adequately monitoring the spatial distribution of pollutants both within and outside of non-attainment areas has been an ongoing challenge for regulators. Observations of near-surface pollution from space-based platforms would provide an unprecedented view of the spatial distribution of pollution, but this goal has not yet been realized due to fundamental limitations of satellites, specifically because the footprint size of satellite measurements may not be sufficiently small enough to capture true gradients in pollution, and rather represents an average over a large area. NASA’s DISCOVER-AQ was a multi-year field campaign aimed at improving our understanding of the role that remote sensing, including satellite-based remote sensing, could play in air quality monitoring systems. DISCOVER-AQ data will be utilized to create a metric to examine spatial gradients and how satellites can capture those gradients in areas with complex emission environments.

    Examining horizontal variability within a vertical column is critical to understanding mixing within the atmosphere. Aircraft spirals conducted during DISCOVER-AQ were divided into octants, and averages of a given a species were calculated, with certain points receiving a flag. These flags were determined by calculating gradients between subsequent octants. Initial calculations have shown that over areas with large point source emissions, satellite retrievals may not adequately capture spatial variability in the atmosphere, thus complicating satellite inversion techniques and limiting our ability to understand human exposure on sub-grid scales. Further calculations at other locations and for other trace gases are necessary to determine the effects of vertical variability within the atmosphere.