Topic 1f - What we measure – overview of key parameters

Through the use of satellites and in situ data, many different elements of the atmosphere can be measured. It is important to use both satellite and in situ data so we can get as many measurements as possible. Measurement stations on the ground can provide information about local air quality, and satellites provide measurements over wide areas.

Things that we can measure include:

-The Ozone layer


  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2),

  • Methane (CH4 ),

  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

-Reactive gases:

  • Formaldehyde (CH2O)

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)

-Fire radiative power

-Aerosol optical depth

There are also things that we cannot measure from Space, such as indoor pollution which can be from domestic fuel burning, and also things such as pollen and mold, and formaldehyde from furniture. Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using solid fuels on open fires or traditional stoves, and 4.3 million people a year die from the exposure to household air pollution.

Featured Educators

  • Prof. John Burrows

  • Dr Rosemary Munro

Optional mini task

For this optional mini task download the NASA Visualization Explorer app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store here. Once downloaded click on the menu button located on the top left and select Earth from under the Stories by Topic section.

Have a look through the various stories and see what you can find in relation to atmosphere. One example would be “Carbon Dioxide in 3-D”, however there are many more options. Share your findings below.

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Interactive Apps


CAMS forecasts for Europe

Ozone, Nitrogen Dioxide, Aerosol PM10, and Aersol PM2.5 forecasts for Europe on 15 November 2016

Global biomass burning aerosol optical depth

Near real time forecast of global biomass burning aerosol optical depth from 27th Febuary 2018.

Fire Radiative Power - Europe

Average observed fire radiative power density in Europe on 26 February 2018. The emissions are calculated in real time and retrospectively from satellite-based observations of open fires.

Tropomi’s spectral range, and what it measures

Illustration showing the range of gasses in the atmosphere that the Tropomi instrument aboard Sentinel-5p is able to measure, and its spectral range.

Global carbon monoxide measured by Sentinel-5P

Global carbon monoxide captured by Sentinel-5P. The image shows high levels of carbon monoxide over parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

Global ozone forecast

CAMS near real time global forecasts of ozone from 27th February 2018.