Thursday, July 3, 2014

Aircraft converge over Denver to support air quality study

Two NASA aircraft are participating in field campaigns beginning this month in Colorado that will probe the factors leading to unhealthy air quality conditions and improve the ability to diagnose air quality conditions from space.

The NASA aircraft will be joined by a research aircraft from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for flights July 16 to Aug. 16 from the Research Aviation Facility maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

The main study area extends from Denver to Fort Collins and as far as Greeley. This area contains a diverse mixture of air pollution sources that include transportation, power generation, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, natural vegetation and episodic wildfires. The region being studied often experiences ozone levels in summer that exceed national health standards.

NASA's contribution to the effort is called DISCOVER-AQ, which stands for Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality. The Colorado study is the final stop in a series of four field studies by the DISCOVER-AQ team focused on areas across the United States that routinely experience poor air quality. Previous flights focused on the Baltimore-Washington area (2011), California's San Joaquin Valley (2013), and Houston (2013).

These detailed observations of air pollution from the surface up into the atmosphere will help improve the capability of future satellites to monitor air quality around the world. The combined studies will produce an unprecedented level of detail for understanding air quality over a metropolitan area.

NASA's twin-engine King Air from Langley Research Center will fly at 27,000 feet, looking downward with remote sensors to measure the amount of gaseous and particulate pollution below the aircraft. A P-3B Orion from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility will sample the vertical distribution of gaseous and particulate pollution by profiling from 1,000 and 15,000 feet above the surface over selected monitoring sites on the ground.

For the Colorado flights, the DISCOVER-AQ mission is collaborating with a second study, the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment, or FRAPPE. Jointly sponsored by the state of Colorado and NSF, FRAPPE will include the NCAR/NSF C-130 research aircraft, as well as additional activities on the ground.

While the DISCOVER-AQ aircraft will be dedicated to sampling over ground sites, FRAPPE will have much more freedom to direct the C-130 to different locations as conditions warrant.

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