NASA satellite finds 39 unreported sources of toxic air pollution

Last Updated: June 2, 2016
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Using new satellite technique, scientists from the US and Canada found 39 unreported sources of toxic emissions of sulfur dioxide. All of these sources are of anthropogenic origin, say a team of scientists from NASA’s, the environment and climate change and Canada’s two universities. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a toxic danger to the health, is one of six air pollutants regulated by the Agency for US Environmental Protection.

Satellite data 2005-2014 showed 39 scientists unreported sources of emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2). In general, these clusters of coal power plants, steel mills, oil and gas operations, which are located in the Middle East, Mexico and Russia. Moreover, the data provided by these companies on toxic emissions to the local Environment Agency, were clearly underestimated in two or three times at least.

“We now have an independent measurement of these emission sources that does not rely on what was known or thought known,” said Chris McLinden, an atmospheric scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto and the author of publications on atmospheric pollution in the journal Nature Geosciences.

The importance of accurate information on emissions is difficult to overestimate, emphasize the scientists. After all, on the basis of data scientists make up scenarios and analyze. False data in this case are just a threat; therefore the satellite method will be extremely helpful for scientists as the accurate data source. The University of Maryland, College Park, and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, contributed to this study.

Through the analysis of the satellite, atmospheric scientists opened 39 unreported sources of SO2 emissions in the atmosphere. The research team also discovered 75 natural sources of sulfur dioxide, among which are  non-erupting volcanoes, slowly emitting a toxic gas throughout the year. Although many volcanoes are in remote locations and are not monitored, the satellite method will help to gather important data on the annual state of volcanic emissions — by monitoring the amount of sulfur emissions.

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