Exploring Air Quality in Aura NO2 Data

Michael J. Urban, Bemidji State University

Bojan Bojkov, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Brooke Carter, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Deborah Dogancay, Newbury Park High School

Eric Fermann, Eastchester High School

Published: May 2008. Last Updated: April 2011.


NASA Aura NO2 data overlain on Google Earth. The scale at the bottom of the image shows concentration of NO2; yellow and red show high concentration.

Humans discovered long ago that burning fossil fuels was a convenient way to get power. Huge volumes of oil, gas, and coal are burned every day to run automobiles and to power plants that generate electricity. Where many people live together in concentrated areas, the exhaust of this burning has a noticeable effect on air quality.

One of the by-products of combustion is a molecule called nitrogen dioxide (NO2). It is responsible for initiating chemical reactions that lead to photochemical smog, a yellow-brown haze that decreases visibility and causes breathing problems. The detection of nitrogen dioxide via satellite is one way to evaluate the extent and movement of smog pollution.

In this chapter, you will explore relationships between air quality and population density using the image visualization tool, Google Earth. You will learn how to download NO2 data and analyze them to develop a conceptual understanding of how population and topography can influence the air quality of a region. Once you have learned the techniques, you are encouraged to explore seasonal changes in nitrogen dioxide concentrations at other locations.

This chapter is part of the Earth Exploration Toolbook. Each chapter provides teachers and/or students with direct practice for using scientific tools to analyze Earth science data. Students should begin on the Case Study page.

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