Hildebrandt Ruiz Research Group Teams Up With NASA For Air Pollution Study

Assistant Professor Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz and researchers Jeff Bean and Cameron Faxon (standing)Assistant Professor Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz and her research team have joined forces with NASA and 30 other research groups  to run an intense flight and ground-based air quality measurement campaign in Houston, Texas this September.

The campaign is part of a five-year, $30 million mission to improve the ability of satellites to monitor air quality in the boundary layer, the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere where people live and breathe. The mission is called DISCOVER-AQ, which stands for Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality.

Scientists will collect data from NASA aircraft, mobile laboratories (vans equipped with instrumentation) and ground-based monitoring sites to improve their ability to “see” ground-level pollution from space via satellites.  Current satellite observations have difficulty determining pollutant concentrations in the boundary layer.  Observing pollution more effectively from space will enable scientists to make better air quality forecasts and more accurately determine where pollution is coming from. This will help lead to successful strategies to reduce pollution and its adverse effects.

“We are located at the ground-based monitoring site in Conroe, TX, approximately 30 minutes north of Houston, taking detailed measurements of pollutants in the gas and particle phase,” said Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz. “Conroe is an interesting location because it allows us to measure the pollution from Houston after it has been processed in the atmosphere. Understanding this atmospheric processing of pollutants is very important to be able to relate emissions to the pollutants which people inhale a little further from the source. We are taking some of the most detailed measurements on the ground, and our data will be very useful to NASA’s objectives.”

Two NASA aircraft will fly over the Houston area as part of the campaign. A four-engine P-3B turboprop plane from the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., will carry eight scientific instruments and a two-engine B200 King Air aircraft from NASA Langley will carry two remote sensors. The first science flight took place September 4, and approximately ten more flights will take place this month. The flight path is designed to pass over and complement air quality information gathered at ground measurement sites operated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the University of Houston. Data from many of these sites will be combined with additional measurements by DISCOVER-AQ and collaborating scientists sponsored by the Texas Air Quality Research Program, including Professor Hildebrandt Ruiz and her research team at the Conroe measurement site.

“We are excited to participate in this project,” said Hildebrandt Ruiz. “Results from our measurements will help the scientific community better understand air pollution in Houston and other metropolitan areas, and to develop policies to reduce pollution and its adverse effects on human health. The collaboration with NASA and the other research groups – in the air, on roads and at stationary sites – will create a particularly rich dataset, making this a fruitful project.”

Houston is the third city to participate in the campaign which has already collected data in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.



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