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NASA Scientists Just Located Unreported Sources of Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

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116751_webTeam of scientists at NASA, in collaboration with two US universities, managed to find almost 40 previously unknown man-made sources of emissions, using satellite data.

It is no news that air pollution is one of the most dangerous and quiet killers around us. Often, without even noticing, tiny microscopic particles enter our bodies and slowly destroy our lungs and hearts. Cancer, asthma, premature deaths, these are just some of the consequences from air pollution.

Knowing this, it is clear why so much research and efforts are directed towards preventing and dealing with this issue. Many research teams and professionals from various industries spend enormous amounts of money and energy to find solutions to this problem and to prevent future disasters from happening.

The latest discovery in the field comes from a team of scientists at NASA, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and two universities- The University of Maryland, College Park, and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

They developed a method, which helped them locate 39 anthropogenic and 75 natural, previously unreported sources of one of the most dangerous pollutants in the atmosphere- sulfur dioxide.

This was achieved through thorough analysis of satellite imagery collected over the past decade (2005 to 2014 to be precise). To process the imagery, the team applied a new and improved computer-based technique, which translates satellite data into meaningful concentrations.

The 39 anthropogenic sources were located mainly in the Middle East, but some hot spots were also found in Mexico and Russia.  In these areas, the scientists also found discrepancies in the previously reported data. For some places, the levels of sulfur dioxide were found to be two or three times lower than what the team measured using satellite data.

Most of the newly found natural sources were leaking, non-erupting volcanoes located in difficult to access, remote areas of the world, where no monitoring has ever been performed.

Thanks to this new technology, the scientists are now able to monitor sulfur dioxide much more successfully than before. The new method is completely independent and highly accurate in locating the sources of pollution.  What is more, it does not rely on previously known information, and therefore can be trusted and used by various industries, governmental institutions and scientists.

The study was published earlier this week in Nature Geosciences.

Image (C) EPA

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