Transcripts of Anne Thompson Interview re: Air Quality

Reporter: Well it's officially summer, and that means we're all heading outdoors for pool parties and picnics. As you fire up the grill, you might be surprised to know the air we breath outdoors each summer is actually getting cleaner across the country. And here to tell us more about it, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is NASA scientist Anne Thompson. Thanks for joining us.

Anne: Good morning, thank you.

Reporter: So as the summer heats up, we often report on bad air quality, but what are these images really showing us about air quality in our area?

Anne: Well these images are taken from NASA's Aura spacecraft. It started measurements just about ten years ago. We've got a decadal anniversary coming up. What we're measuring here is nitrogen dioxide, and the more red you see, the higher the levels. And what's red is contributing to bad air, bad air alerts in all of those cities. So between 2005 and 2011, we've seen an improvement. Then on average in the northeast US is about a 40% improvement. Some cities about 25% better, some closer to 50% better. Look how much less angry red you see in the northeast. What's really exciting for some people is if you're in sort of the edge areas from some of the cities, for example take a look along the coastal regions. Some of them no longer have red. That's really good news for them. And some of the areas that also monitor the health of their waterways, places like the Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay, that NO2 is an ingredient in bad air and bad water quality as well. So there's a lot of good news in this picture.

Reporter: And why is this happening?

Anne: Well it's happening because we've made steps, we've implemented measures over the last couple decades principally in two areas. One is to clean up our industries, especially those power plants. On the east coast, a lot of the power plants in the Ohio River valley provide our electricity, they've got scrubbers, they're emitting a lot less NO2. In that sense, cleaner air to us to start with. And then, automobiles are the other part of the mix. We're driving cleaner cars, we're getting our emissions tested, we're putting out less of our own NO2. So what's coming to us, what we're adding to the mix, is why we're getting cleaner air. Technological improvements.

Reporter: What have we learned about air quality around the world?

Anne: What we've learned around the world is that just as places like the US and western Europe in particular have improved some of this air quality, there are places that are rapidly developing, have industries that are not yet controlled, or are moving from, moving to automobiles very rapidly. Their problems are just starting. But what we can do is keep an eye on them and what they're reaching in our global communication and our global technological industry. They're getting this information from NASA to help them develop their strategies to clean up their air, which they're all very eager to do.

Reporter: Why is NASA studying air quality?

Anne: NASA studies air quality because we have two missions: we look out, we look out to the planets and beyond, and we look at our own very dear home planet. We look at our own planet, this is the Aura spacecraft that is responsible for these NO2 pictures. But we also look at fires, we look at clouds, we look at the health of our ice, of volcanoes... all components of the Earth system are part of our mission and we keep an eye on our planet. We put the data together in ways that we can do with models, like bringing in information about weather, we can follow where the air comes from, we can see what are the natural processes, what are the things that we're upsetting with some of our pollution. And what regions are connected to what regions. Sometimes it's a surprise.

Reporter: Well it's great to finally hear some good news about the environment, where can we learn more?

Anne: You can learn more by going to Take a look at the images we've shown. You can get the data, look at it for yourself, and look at the, at the Earth from all these other satellites as well.

Reporter: Dr. Anne Thompson, thank you very much for joining us!

Anne: My pleasure, you're welcome.

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