Satellites and ground sensors observe smoke blanketing California

Air quality data from a network of low-cost sensors distributed throughout the region.


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As amazing downslope winds sent the destructive Camp Fire seething through completely dry vegetation in northern California on November 8, 2018, sensors on the ground and in space started to identify sharp increments in air contamination downwind of the inferno.

From space, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor watched far-reaching smoke and vaporized crest over California’s Central Valley and drift not long after the fire started.

Moreover, the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) on Suomi NPP watched surprisingly high aerosol levels, and the Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) on Terra grabbed solid carbon monoxide signals from the fire.

Satellites and ground sensors observe smoke blanketing California
Image Credit: Purple Air

Scientists are keeping a close eye on air quality data from a system of minimal effort sensors distributed all through the locale. These sensors measure the mass convergence of fine particulate issue (PM2.5). A few stations estimated PM2.5 esteems higher than 500 micrograms for every cubic meter, which is around multiple times higher than the level thought about safe to breathe.

Atmospheric scientist Pawan Gupta said, “On November 9th, due to favorable wind direction, most of the smoke was confined to a smaller region north of San Francisco, but the wind direction changed on the 10th, and smoke spread over a much larger region. On the 11th and 12th, the wind direction again changed, and most of the smoke blew over the ocean.”

Satellites and ground sensors observe smoke blanketing California
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Landsat 8/OLI

The ground-based sensors that are part of official state and federal government observing networks cost several thousand dollars each, but the new generation of sensors cost just a few hundred dollars—cheap enough that scientists think they could proliferate and potentially be used to help fill in crucial gaps, particularly in countries with few air quality sensors.

Gupta said, “The low-cost sensors have performed as expected, though with varying accuracy for certain types of particles. Going forward, we hope to use what we learn from them to improve the techniques scientists use to derive levels of particulate matter at the surface from the entire column aerosol measurements observed by satellites.”

Scientists have deployed about 40 low-cost sensors in California. Next summer, they plan to add hundreds of additional sensors in New Delhi, an area that regularly gets hit with dust storms and smoke from agricultural burning. They also plan to deploy sensors in North Carolina, an area with relatively clean air.


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