Topic 2a - Air quality and types of atmospheric pollution

Air quality refers to the chemical composition of trace constituents close to the surface of the earth, which impact on humans. It is a global issue. Emissions from human activities, sunlight, weather, pollution from far away, wildfires, and wind-blown dust can all affect air quality.

Before satellites, air quality could only be monitored in situ. For example in 1961, 5 years after the UK government introduced the Clean Air Act following on from the 1952 great smog of London, the UK established the world’s first co-ordinated national air pollution monitoring network, called the National Survey. This was comprised of around 1200 monitoring sites around the UK measuring black smoke and sulphur dioxide. The National Survey have now been monitoring air pollution for over 60 years.

In situ measure are important for measuring pollution, however satellites need to be used to get a larger picture. Currents of air blow gaseous and particulate pollutants across regions, countries and even to different continents.

Featured Educators:

  • Prof John Burrows

  • Dr Mauro Facchini

  • Dr Matthieu Plu

  • Dr Ruediger Lang

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


Satellite tracking app - Topic 2a

The satellites featured in this topic are as follows:

ENVISAT; Metop-a; Metop-b

You can also use the drop-down menu in the app to view these satellites.


Satellite derived PM2.5 trends in Europe, 2000 - 2014

Since 2000 Europe has experienced a steady decline in PM2.5 levels, slightly more than the USA.

NOx pollution over Europe

Annual changes in OMI NOx emissions (2005-2008)

Annual changes in concentrations of NO2 in the period 2001–2010

Annual changes in concentrations of NO2 in the period 2001–2010 in Europe.
The data presented were derived from a consistent set of ground stations in all years. Statistically significant trends (level of significance 0.1) are calculated by applying the Mann-Kendall test. Increasing concentrations are indicated with red dots and decreasing concentrations with green dots, when statistically significant.