Canadian Consulting Engineer

SO₂ emitters beware — there’s no escaping NASA’s eyes

June 6, 2016

Scientists at Environment and Climate Change Canada who have been tracking emissions of sulphur dioxide made some unsettling discoveries about unreported emissions. Sulphur dioxide can cause acid rain, which harms freshwater ecologies, and particulate matter that causes short-term and long term health risks such as lung cancer and heart disease.

An article in CBC News by Emily Chung reported on the findings of a team led by Chris McLinden of Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto. The research was published at the end of May in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The scientists cross checked the emissions reported by sources such as coal plants, oil and gas facilities and other industrial processors in international inventories. They matched these reports to actual observations from NASA’s AURA satellite and combined the information with data on wind directions and wind speeds to pinpoint the sources of the sulphur dioxide. They also relied on Google Earth.

While Canadian emissions pretty accurately matched those being reported, the research showed large emissions from clusters of oil and gas plants in the Middle East were not being reported. They also found large amounts of unreported emissions from a power plant in Mexico and industrial sources in Africa and Asia.


Another unexpected patch of emissions was found in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and these were from 75 dormant volcanoes.

The research team, which included people from Dalhousie University, NASA, the University of Maryland and the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, thinks the method might also be used to measure nitrogen oxides. The sources of carbon dioxide and methane would be more difficult to detect.

To read the CBC article of June 3, click here.

To read an abstract of the technical article in Nature Geoscience, click here.



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