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Dutch satellite images of air quality visible in Google Earth

Everyone can now follow the emission and spread of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gasses using Google Earth. SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI have made available the images from the space instruments SCIAMACHY and the Ozone Monitoring Instrument OMI via Internet.

Using Google Earth these images can be projected onto the globe and shown as short films. For example, according to Ilse Aben, head of atmospheric research at SRON, everyone can now see the relationship between the emission of methane and rice fields at a single glance.

The current interest in climate change amongst the press, the general public and politicians is greater than ever before. Google Earth enables interested parties, but also scientists, to quickly and simply gain an initial idea of what is happening in the atmosphere. Within just a few days satellites can gain an impression of the composition of the atmosphere over the entire world. They consequently play a vital role in research into the atmosphere and climate.

While the signs for climate change are unmistakable, the complexity of the climate system is also becoming increasingly apparent. Climate researchers are continuously searching for associations between different data sets, says Ilse Aben. For example, with the help of Google Earth, the SCIAMACHY measurements of the air pollutant carbon monoxide and the greenhouse gas methane can now be easily correlated with forest fires and rice fields. According to Pieternel Levelt of the KNMI, principal investigator of OMI, Google Earth is also highly suitable for the presentation of the intricate measurements of OMI. Now we can see which cities or valleys are hot spots for nitrogen dioxide. It turns out that large volumes of pollutants continue to hang above the Po plain in Italy. Nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant but also plays a role in the formation of greenhouse gasses. The big advantage of Google Earth is that everyone can now access the information in an easy to use manner and compare different types of information with just a single mouse click.

Geography lesson
In future, an increasing number of images from Earth observation satellites will be used in Google Earth. Apart from being useful for scientists, it also opens up options for many educational applications, in geography lessons for example.

With the space instruments SCIAMACHY, on the ESA satellite Envisat, and OMI, on the NASA satellite EOS-AURA, the Netherlands plays a leading role in atmospheric space research. KNMI and SRON are currently working with the Dutch space industry on the preparations for a new space instrument, TROPOMI, which will combine the best of SCIAMACHY and OMI.

SCIAMACHY data for use in Google Earth are prepared for SRON by Matthijs Krijger. They can be downloaded from:

OMI data for use in Google Earth can be downloaded from:

Jasper Wamsteker | alfa
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