NASA Studies Effects of Air Pollution on Climate With Research Planes at Ellington Field

Like everything NASA does, this project too is known under an acronym. SEAC4RS stands for "Studies of Emissions, Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys."

Its goal is to investigate how air pollution and natural emissions affect atmospheric composition and the climate.

Hal Maring is a scientist with the SEAC4RS program.

"The measurements we make and the improvements we will make to our models will help give us a better predictive capability for air quality, atmospheric composition, climate and weather."

To do that, the study combines observations from satellites, aircraft, balloons and sites on the ground. Three research airplanes, which are operated from Ellington Field, measure gases and atmospheric processes in the air.

"We're standing inside the NASA DC-8 flying laboratory. This is the only large research aircraft in the world that's capable of flying at airliner altitudes between 30,000 and 40,000 feet."

The NASA DC-8 flying laboratory carries 31 instruments to trace chemicals that contribute to pollution.

Brian Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder is the study's lead scientist.

"In this mission in particular we're looking at emissions from pine trees and forests and things like that. And when you get ozone pollution events, a lot of that is due to emissions of biological gases. Some of them come from petrochemical plants but some of them come from pine trees. And we're trying to sort all of that out and which one is more important for causing air pollution episodes is one of the goals of this mission." 

Flights will be conducted through September. Afterward, all the data collected will be combined and analyzed.

"A lot of data will come out quickly, most of it will come out in a year or so, and a bunch of it will dribble on."

Scientists are also hoping to get a better understanding of global climate change.

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