Nitrogen dioxide can impact the respiratory system, and it also contributes to the formation of other pollutants including ground-level ozone and particulates. The gas is produced primarily during the combustion of gasoline in vehicle engines and coal in power plants. Air pollution has decreased even though population and the number of cars on the roads have increased. The shift is the result of regulations, technology improvements and economic changes, scientists say.
This visualization shows tropospheric column concentrations of nitrogen dioxide as detected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Aura satellite, averaged yearly from 2005-2011. Blue and green denote lower concentrations and orange and red areas denote higher concentrations, ranging from 1e+15 to 5e+15 molecules per square centimeter, respectively.
The impact of technology to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley is apparent in satellite imagery, which shows the signal of pollution blink out over time. Still, while air quality is improving, power plant emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – remain an issue.