Transcripts of Doug Morton Interview re: Air Quality

Reporter: Well it's officially summer, and that means we're all heading outdoors for pool parties and picnics. But as you fire up the grill, you might be surprised to know that the air we breathe outdoors each summer is actually getting cleaner across the country. And here to talk with us more about is Dr. Doug Morton from NASA, thank you for joining us!

Doug: 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?

Doug: NASA's Aura satellite which is just coming up on its tenth birthday, has been taking images of air pollution across our country. And we can look back then over the last decade to understand how things have changed, and where the air quality has improved. In this image, we're seeing colors of red, the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is an important component of smog and ozone pollution. By 2011, you see a dramatic improvement, a 40% reduction in air pollution across our country. Particularly if you zoom into a region like the northeast US, where a number of sources including power plants and cars contribute to air pollution, there's been a major improvement across the region in just the last decade. And so having the opportunity to monitor air quality in a continuous way with our satellites gives us a chance to really contribute to the conversation we're having about improving air quality.

Reporter: Tell us more about why these changes are happening.

Doug: Well, it's really a technological revolution as we've made improvements in the way that we clean our air coming from smokestacks and power plants and also cleaner cars on the road. So even though we have more people driving more miles, and using more electricity, our emissions of nitrogen dioxide have actually gone down. And that's really a good news story, because that leads to less ozone pollution and fewer red air quality days that would keep us inside or put us at risk.

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

Doug: Well, the opportunity to look down from space with the Aura satellite gives a global picture of how those smokestacks and tail pipes are producing nitrogen dioxide, here again in colors of red, around the world. And so even though we've made some major improvements in places like the United States, there are still opportunities for improvements around the world where ongoing production of power in China and India, and more cars on the road, means a bigger burden not just locally but ultimately for the entire global community. One of the hallmarks of the way we do science here at NASA though, is to be able to take that information about nitrogen dioxide, and add in to the mix we look at fires, generating those biomass burning plumes, smoke and dust and look at the Earth as a system. And so NASA Aura data can contribute just one of our twenty satellites that then combine to give us a better picture of the Earth as a whole.

Reporter: And why is NASA studying air quality?

Doug: Well, NASA's interest in air quality comes from the fact that we have a range of unique capabilities. This vantage from space is really quite remarkable. So NASA's Aura satellite goes around the Earth every 90 minutes, taking an image of the Earth. And that allows us to have a complete picture of those sources of air pollution, and those regions downwind that are ultimately impacted by the sources of air pollution we see from satellite data.

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

Doug: Well there's a lot more information about the good news story on air quality, and other information about our satellites at, where you can pick up more information about Aura's 10th anniversary, but also learn more about what's going on on our planet on a regular basis.

Reporter: Great, thanks very much Doug.

Doug: Thank you.

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