Why are we (I and my colleagues) that excited this week? Why is TROPOMI so much important for the new coming era in air quality & climate satellite era?
Throughout the week, we will post more information on our GRS TU Delft website and also be using the #GRS_TROPOMI on social media (Twitter and Instagram) as we explain more about the mission, its goals, and how it all works in relation to the goals and work being done in our department. The week will culminate with the Sentinel-5P launch event taking place at the Space Expo in Noordwijk.
Despite its quite advance age for a satellite mission (13 years old!), OMI is still delivering remarkable measurements about our atmospheric composition and air quality. So many talks and discussions on the aerosol global record over cloud-free scenes and above clouds, decade global volcanic SO2 – Sulfur dioxide missions, the use of OMI data by air quality model simulations to inform air quality policy, the case studies on emissions monitoring and to support authorities and clean-tech industry, the new generation of the Quality Assurance For Essential Climate Variables (QA4ECV), the evolution in the ozone trends and related mechanisms, and of course the future with the forthcoming TROPOMI (Sentinel-5 Precursor) mission, TEMPO (NASA Geostationary) and TROPOLITE.
In spite of being glad of having been part of this adventure, I cannot stop myself thinking this may have been my very last OMI conference, before finishing my current research project and starting new professional & personal adventures (still in satellite & atmospheric community of course!). But this last point will be specifically mentioned later in future weeks. Stay tuned!
Finally, that’s official! TROPOMI, on-board Sentinel-5 Precursor, the 1st European operational satellite mission devoted to air quality, ozone & climate monitoring, should be launched within the next weeks. And this looks very impressive!
The 20th OMI Science Team Meeting will be held at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt MD, USA from Tuesday September 12 through Thursday September 14, 2017. With nearly 14 years of data and the impending launch of TROPOMI on board-Sentinel-5 Precursor, there is much to discuss within the OMI (& TROPOMI) team and user community regarding the current state of OMI, trends and longer-terms records, comparisons with (satellite) data sets, and the validation of OMI data. This meeting will highlight recent OMI results as well as address research plans and program goals for the coming year.
And it is still very interesting to observe not only the temporal variability of temperature, CO2 – Carbon dioxide concentrations and relative humidity but also the apparent nice correlations between them! Especially, CO2 in our office and temperature seem to follow similar diurnal variation. Of course, these variables, at a such local scale, are also strongly dependent on external parameters such as wind transport, the number of people present in the room, whether the windows are open etc…
CO2 – Carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas and its impacts on our changing climate here
“Our house is burning and we are looking somewhere else. Nature mutilated, overexploited is not able to recover and we refuse to admit it. From North to South, it suffers from ill-development, and we are indifferent. Earth and humanity are in great peril and we are accountable” (from my own English translation).
Those were the words pronounced by our former French president in 2002 in Johannesburg (South-Africa) in 2002 during the Earth summit. The real French words pronounced were the following: “Notre maison brûle et nous regardons ailleurs. La nature, mutilée, surexploitée, ne parvient plus à se reconstituer et nous refusons de l’admettre. L’humanité souffre. Elle souffre de mal-développement, au nord comme au sud, et nous sommes indifférents. La terre et l’humanité sont en péril et nous en sommes tous responsables.”
At that time, large wildfires were ravaging Australia and societies were debating on the responsibility of climate change. 15 years later, 2017, these words are somehow ringing a bell to me. When looking at all the twitter posts during the last 2 months, we quickly get the feeling that Earth is on fire.
A series of blazes has burned in the vicinity of Kangerlussuaq, a small town that serves as a basecamp for researchers in the summer to access Greenland’s ice sheet and western glaciers. The largest fire has burned roughly 3,000 acres and sent smoke spiralling a mile into the sky, prompting hunting and hiking closures in the area, according to local news reports. There’s no denying that it’s weird to be talking about wildfires in Greenland because ice covers the majority of the island. Forests are basically non-existent and this fire appears to be burning through grasses, willows and other low-slung vegetation on the tundra that makes up the majority of the land not covered by ice.
Most of Greenland is covered by ice up to 3 kilometres thick but there is some tundra around the coastline. The wildfire is burning on tundra in the west of Greenland, near the small town of Sisimiut. The larger fire could be a result of melting permafrost, McCarty told Wildfire Today. As the once-frozen ground melts, the upper layers can dry out and become flammable if they are full of organic matter. Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing expert at the Geoscience & Remote Sensing department (GRS) of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands, said there is evidence of fires burning in Greenland over the past 17 years of MODIS satellite records kept by NASA.
“It certainly is the biggest one in the satellite record,” says remote-sensing scientist Stef Lhermitte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. That record only goes back to 2000, but it could well turn out to be the biggest wildfire in Greenland’s history. The fire, first spotted by a pilot on 31 July, has taken researchers by surprise. His initial analysis of satellite observations suggests there have been a few small wildfires in Greenland since 2000 but that over the past three years there has been a huge increase in the area burning.
No doubt then that our house is burning. The question now is: where are we looking?
Canada wildfires from space and ground – Seeing beyond the flames: a series of observations here
Wildfires in French Mediterranean region observed from MODIS here
Since July, the province of British Columbia (BC), west coast of Canada, has been impacted by massive and violent wildfires. Such events are visually impressive. They can be a constructive force by maintaining the overall health and functioning of the forest ecosystem, but also a destructive force due to devastating impacts on the local population, soil and our atmosphere: e.g. visibility reduction, air quality deterioration caused by smoke fine particles (aerosols) that are harmful for health population and on a longer term, climate.
These effects can easily be seen by different “eyes”. While BC is known for its clean, fresh air, the visibility reduction occurs as the increased concentration of smoke particles leads to more extinction of the sunlight passing through the atmosphere. This results in the formation of haze and the dark grey smoke that we see. The particles can also attract water, acting as condensation nuclei for droplet formation and a subsequent further reduction in visibility as fog and clouds form.
Although the fires themselves are fairly localized in the interior of BC, their overall impact is not, with the smoke traveling far away from the source region – up to thousands of kilometers! Atmospheric and fire emission models are used to predict the amount and trajectory of smoke according to the prevailing circulation and dispersion patterns allowing for air quality forecasts and warnings, such as the Government of Canada’s wildfire smoke prediction system: FireWork.
Satellite observations are vital to monitor such disasters. Not only do they provide an overview image from the top of the atmosphere of the raging fires, which already gives spectacular maps, they also allow detection of the substances released in the air by these episodes and follow their dispersion. This is vital for predicting the impact of air masses far away from the fire sources. Below are some illustrations of these satellite maps over the last 10 days.
Optical images like MODIS sensors (on-board Terra & Aqua platforms) capture the thick smokes directly linked to the fires: such plumes can extent to several hundreds thousands of kilometres. Moreover, measurements in thermal infrared spectrum allow detection of the actively burning areas.
The integrated amounts of aerosol particles that are suspended in the atmosphere can be quantified, and their horizontal distribution monitored. This is an important input for air quality models in charge of predicting the air quality for populations.
Knowing the type of these particles (i.e. whether they are dark or brighter) is of great importance for scientists and researchers. This directly gives insights on how these aerosols affect our atmosphere radiation, and consequently our climate on the long-term. Satellite sensors measuring light in the UV such as the Dutch-Finnish OMI mission, on-board the NASA Aura platform, provides with an important index (here named UV Absorbing Index or UVAI) to identify absorbing (i.e. very dark) aerosol particles on a daily-global coverage.
Finally, wildfires do not only release smoke and particles, which already pose a problem for human respiratory health, but also a mix of toxic gases. One of the most important is CO – Carbon monoxide. Infrared sensors such as the European IASI mission, on-board Metop-A and B, quantify everyday the amount of CO present in the atmosphere. On some specific days in August, concentration values were comparable to those associated with African and South-American fires.
This post was written by Julien Chimot and my colleague Jonathan Izett. Find more information on Jonathan via his Linkedin profile, and his website on his research work focused on the formation, evolution and prediction of fog in the atmospheric boundary layer.