SJSU Assistant Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Minghui Diao’s research focuses on understanding how dirty the air is that we breathe. Her latest research has been published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. In the article Diao, Tracey Holloway and 15 coauthors from 14 universities and federal agencies assess state-of-art estimates for fine particulate matter. Their research is part of an overarching project funded by NASA’s Applied Science Program, and is being conducted by the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST).
The researchers looked at some of the limitations of standard air quality management monitors. Air quality monitors managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have limited coverage on the ground. The closest ground monitor may be a few blocks away, or hundreds of miles away, from the location being measured. For locations with fewer monitors, it is more difficult to assess the impact of air quality on public health.
Among all types of pollutants, fine particulate matter, particularly PM2.5, have the largest impact on human health. PM2.5 describes particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. They are so small that twenty PM2.5 particles can fit side by side along the diameter of a strand of hair. These tiny particles can cause severe health impacts to human beings when they enter the bloodstream.
A highlight of the article is that it demonstrates how NASA satellite data play an important role for locations that used to be missing air quality information. Advancement in satellite technology helps to “see” air pollution in those locations. The resulting data will contribute to future development of epidemiology studies and air quality management efforts, while raising public awareness of air pollution’s impact on the environment and health.
“This is a new era during which we will get to know what is affecting the air quality in our back yards, with a helpful view from space,” said Diao.