Measuring global sulfur dioxide emissions with satellite sensors

October 8, 2013

Atmospheric sulfur dioxide affects the weather by enhancing cloud formation, and long-term shifts in emissions can change the climate by increasing the planetary albedo. Sulfur dioxide emissions are the basis for acid rain, and the gas itself can cause respiratory problems. Despite its importance, the difficulties associated with accurately measuring sulfur dioxide mean that rates of emissions are generally not well understood. For readings made using satellite-borne spectrometers, the signal of sulfur dioxide is often swamped by that of ozone, which absorbs radiation at similar wavelengths. Using data filtering and analysis techniques, Fioletov et al. find that observations from three different satellites are consistent and could be used to detect large sources of sulfur dioxide emissions.

Satellites have previously been used to track emissions from individual point sources, such as volcanoes or large power plants. Global assessments have proven to be more elusive. By comparing observations from ultraviolet spectrometers carried by three different satellites, the authors identified 30 strong sources of , ranging from smelters and oil refineries to factories, volcanoes, and power plants. With observations from 2004 to 2010, the authors calculated trends in emissions rates at these sites.

The development of an accurate method to remotely detect concentrations is important because otherwise scientists are reliant on reported rates, which aren't always accurately disclosed.

Explore further: EPA says sulfur dioxide emissions are down

More information: Application of OMI, SCIAMACHY, and GOME-2 satellite SO2 retrievals for detection of large emission sources , Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, DOI: 10.1002/jgrd.50826, 2013 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50826/abstract

Related Stories

Volcanoes cause climate gas concentrations to vary

May 22, 2013

Trace gases and aerosols are major factors influencing the climate. With the help of highly complex installations, such as MIPAS on board of the ENVISAT satellite, researchers try to better understand the processes in the ...

Carnival to cut pollution from cruise ships

September 6, 2013

The world's largest cruise ship company will adopt technology from power plants and automobiles to reduce air pollution from the massive diesel engines powering its ships.

Recommended for you

Farming becoming riskier under climate change

March 27, 2017

Scientists the world over are working to predict how climate change will affect our planet. It is an extremely complex puzzle with many moving parts, but a few patterns have been consistent, including the prediction that ...

Weather extremes: Humans likely influence giant airstreams

March 27, 2017

The increase of devastating weather extremes in summer is likely linked to human-made climate change, mounting evidence shows. Giant airstreams are circling the Earth, waving up and down between the Arctic and the tropics. ...

Land-based microbes may be invading and harming coral reefs

March 24, 2017

A new study suggests that coral reefs—already under existential threat from global warming—may be undergoing further damage from invading bacteria and fungi coming from land-based sources, such as outfall from sewage ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.