Transcripts of Russ Dickerson Interview re: Air Qualityair quality_youtube_hq

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 tell us more about it, out of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is NASA air quality science team member Dr. Russ Dickerson. Thank you for joining us!

Russ: My pleasure, nice to be here.

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?

Russ: Well there's a remarkable good news story, in that air quality has improved over the past few decades. This is certainly true for the continental United States, where this important pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, that leads to smog, photochemical smog, sometimes called Los Angeles smog, was pretty bad in 2005, but this image from a NASA satellite shows that by 2011, concentrations had dropped substantially. We still have a ways to go. This is an image of the northeastern United States in 2005, the hotter the color, the redder the color, the worse the air quality, and we can see that there's a big improvement that has happened over the past 15 years or so.

Reporter: Why is this happening?

Russ: Well, the engineers have done a good job for us, it's a technical fix, a technological fix. Nitrogen dioxide comes out of tail pipes of cars, from power plants, from major industries, and cars are much cleaner than they were 20 years ago. In fact a car today produces only about 5% of the pollution that came out of the tail pipe in say 1960. Power plants have scrubbers on them now, and the air quality is much improved It's not perfect yet.

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

Russ: Well, the developing world, North America and western Europe, have made great strides, great improvements. This is an image, a global image of the NO2. The hotter the color, the more pollution there is there. And you can see sort of pulsing that's a result of changes in seasonal weather. Well North America and Europe over time have made great improvements modern cars, improved power plants, and so on. The developing world especially south Asia and east Asia have not had so much success. They have a great increase in the number of cars on the road and the amount of electricity being generated, and it's not under control just yet.

Reporter: Why is NASA studying air quality?

Russ: NASA is uniquely qualified to provide a global image. Now the EPA states, a lot of agencies monitor ozone at the Earth's surface, ozone and other air pollutants, but only NASA has the capability of putting an eye in the sky, to circle and cover the whole globe where you can fill in the blanks, you can make measurements every day throughout the year. This is a nice image of one of NASA's satellites as flies over the globe. It covers the whole globe every day, and it can make measurements all the time and tell us give us a big picture of how things are coming down. It's been a tremendous improvement for those of us who are involved in trying to improve and regulate air quality to be able to get an image of the whole globe. This is another image produced by NASA, it's actually a computer model, a numerical simulation, showing different kinds of pollution. And you can see that it's one planet that we live on, and pollution in one part of the globe blows over to another part, so we pollute Europe, the Europeans pollute Asia, Asia pollutes us, and this is a nice simulation of how the world's atmosphere works.

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

Russ: Well, there's a very nice website that NASA has. It's Go there and you can get a lot of information on air quality and its trend over the years and what NASA's doing to understand our planet better.

Reporter: Thank you very much.

Russ: My pleasure.

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