The global sweep of pollution: Satellite snapshots capture long distance movement

Over the past several decades, satellite surveillance with increasingly sophisticated instruments has enabled scientists to better visualize the complex fluctuations of several pollutants as they make their way around the Earth. One aspect of this research has focused on directly correlating satellite-observed concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere with those at ground level. Despite the challenges of tracking individual pollutants, scientists have been able to account for variables such as clouds, humidity, and landforms in measuring particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde, and they are making progress in accurately tracking others. Findings are already being used to improve the links between pollutants and disease and to boost the ability to forecast and respond to dangerous polllution events. Although the technology is beginning to prove itself, budgetary constraints may hinder further efforts by the United States to develop pollutant-tracking efforts.