NASA to track N. American air pollution

High in the Earth’s atmosphere flow virtual rivers of air and moisture delivering wind and rain around the globe. Also caught in the moist air currents are greenhouse gases and pollution that dangerously affect air quality and threaten our planet’s environment. Concerned with the wide-spread impact of atmospheric pollution, NASA has launched an unprecedented airborne experiment to track the path and changes to global air masses. Dubbed INTEX-NA, the program name stands for Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment – North America. The critical project is a multi-year study using sensor-laden aircraft to follow air masses as they pass into and out of North America.

From NASA:

Going with the Flow

High in the Earth’s atmosphere flow virtual rivers of air and moisture delivering wind and rain around the globe. Also caught in the moist air currents are greenhouse gases and pollution that dangerously affect air quality and threaten our planet’s environment.

Concerned with the wide-spread impact of atmospheric pollution, NASA has launched an unprecedented airborne experiment to track the path and changes to global air masses. Dubbed INTEX-NA, the program name stands for Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment – North America. The critical project is a multi-year study using sensor-laden aircraft to follow air masses as they pass into and out of North America.

NASA’s INTEX-NA study is part of a larger international effort to track global air pollution. Known as the Intercontinental Transport and Chemical Transformation program, the project is coordinating research activities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This year American, British, German and French agencies will be working together to pursue air masses as they travel from North America to Europe. While each of the participating countries have their own specific goals for the project, information and data will be shared between all participating nations to create the most complete picture possible of air mass evolution and movement.

Locally, INTEX-NA is divided into two separate phases. Phase A is taking place this summer across the eastern half of North America. Researchers have chosen summer because that’s when the Sun’s rays are intensely potent and have their greatest affect on airborne chemicals traveling across the region. Phase B will begin in the spring of 2006 with research concentrating on the continent’s west coast. Spring is high tide for air masses flowing into North America from across the Pacific Ocean and scientists want follow their journey from Asia.

Both phases of the project will use NASA’s DC-8 and P-3B research aircraft. Each of these aircraft is outfitted with on-board instruments and experiments to analyze air mass characteristics. The DC-8 and P-3B also have the ability to drop radio-linked sensor packages into the air below. The DC-8 will be used to conduct a majority of this summer’s flights and depart from bases in California, Illinois, Missouri and New Hampshire.

NASA will also be using its constellation of orbiting satellites to gather additional atmospheric information as well as double-check the data collected by the INTEX-NA aircraft. Included in the group of satellites is NASA’s brand new Aura spacecraft, launched just this past July. Aura is on a mission to observe the Earth and designed to analyze the planet’s ozone layer and greenhouse gases.

Flying high above the Earth, NASA’s aircraft and satellites are sweeping the globe in the hunt for polluted air masses. What is learned from their flights could not only help protect the stream of air that flows around our planet and but also everywhere it passes along the way.


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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