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NASA grant will provide better picture of Northwest air quality

PULLMAN–Researchers in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research have received a three-year NASA grant to gather data from satellites and use it to check and improve air quality forecasting in the Northwest.

During the last several years, NASA has launched a total of three Earth Observing System satellites that collect data worldwide. The agency has encouraged researchers to use data collected from the satellites, particularly for researchers and decision-makers in aviation, natural resources, transportation and air quality.

The researchers, including Brian Lamb and George Mount, plan to use the NASA satellite products to support the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research’s AIRPACT (Air Indicator Reporting for Public Access and Community
Tracking) Air Quality System. AIRPACT, developed by LAR in 2001, is one of the first operating air quality forecast systems in the country.

The system is run year-round on a daily basis in Washington, Idaho and Oregon and uses a numerical computer model to predict the concentration of ozone and air toxics as they move through the region. The information, posted on the AIRPACT Web site ( ) is used by agencies, such as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, to assist in deciding whether to issue an air quality alert.

The information from the NASA satellites provides a missing link for the AIRPACT model, Lamb said. For instance, NASA’s satellites take measurements once a day of carbon monoxide concentrations at the global or regional scale, providing a clear picture of those concentrations throughout the Northwest. The researchers can determine how much of the pollutant is present on the edges of their modeling area.

For example, pollutants traveling from Asia over the Pacific Ocean can be monitored for their impact on the Puget Sound region. The group will also use the satellite data to check on how their model is doing. Their model predictions should agree with the satellite measurements.

“That information is tough to determine without aircraft or satellite information,” Lamb said.

With better information going into the AIRPACT model, agencies from throughout the Northwest that use the model will be able to provide better predictions of regional pollutant levels that might be hazardous to area residents.

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