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Atmospheric Remote Sensing

Atmospheric Remote Sensing: Modeled PM2.5

Atmospheric remote sensing can be used to measure levels of some air pollutants. Remote sensing data come from satellites. These data can be used in combination with other data to help us better understand when and where air pollution is happening. This is important because air pollution can cause health problems. Knowing more about when and where air pollution is happening can help public health officials and others do more to protect our health. Read more about the health problems related to air pollution here.

Compliance with air pollution standards usually is measured through the use of EPA's Air Quality System monitors. These monitors are on the ground and are placed around the country, mainly in large cities. Data from these monitoring stations are considered the "gold standard" for determining outdoor air pollution. However, this information is limited because the monitoring stations are usually near big cities and may take air samples only every three days or during periods when air pollution is very high. Read more about air monitoring here. Using remote sensing data from satellites can help fill in the gaps that exist from air monitors on the ground.

Although atmospheric remote sensing data can help estimate air pollution levels, these data have limitations especially if used on their own. Satellite data are not always available. For example, it is nearly impossible to collect satellite data on a cloudy day. Clouds can interfere with the satellite's ability to collect data which can cause a gap in the information that comes from them. This is one reason why atmospheric remote sensing data should be used in addition to monitoring and modeled air data.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provides atmospheric sensing data from their satellites for this project. Scientists from CDC, NASA, and Emory University are working together to determine how these data can be used with other air pollution monitoring data to measure fine particulate matter in outdoor air. Fine particulate matter is also called PM2.5. Read more about PM2.5 here.

The Tracking Network is now providing estimates of annual average PM2.5 concentrations using remote sensing data. Currently, data are available only for Alabama, Georgia, and parts of South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia. This project is still evolving, but we are sharing the progress we have made.

Annual PM2.5 Level (Remote Sensing Data)

This indicator provides county-level information on the annual average level of PM2.5 using atmospheric remote sensing data. These data can be used to show trends in PM2.5 over time. This information can be used with other air pollution estimates to understand more about when and where people are exposed to PM2.5. The file below includes annual remote sensing PM2.5 predictions using two different sources of weather data.

  • Remote sensing data using North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR)
  • Remote sensing data using North American Land Data Assimilation Systems (NLDAS)
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