NASA scientists found more than three dozen human-made sources of sulfur dioxide pollution that went largely unnoticed. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a toxic chemical compound that causes acid rain, which can be devastating for human health and food stock.
NASA along with researchers at the Environment and Climate Change Canada and a couple of U.S. universities found that 39 major sources of the air polluter missed from any official report.
SO2 is one of the air-pollution-causing agents that have received an EPA regulation. The levels of the chemical compound were calculated based on the data gathered by ground-based stations. This may be why some of the sources went unnoticed.
All major sources of SO2 need to be reported to help regulators take the best actions to improve air pollution and prevent other hazardous emissions in the future.
Chris McLinden from the Environment and Climate Change Canada and senior researcher involved in the latest analysis explained that the team had a better method of detecting SO2 pollution across the globe.
Researchers used imagery taken by NASA satellites from 2005 through 2014 to compile a more accurate data set. McLinden explained that in NASA images pollution sources are more visible because they appear like hotspots.
The missing sources include coal-based power plants and oil operations in Latin America, Russia, and the Middle East. Surprisingly, some of the known sources of SO2 pollution in these regions emitted 2 to 3 times fewer pollutants than official estimates.
Scientists also found that the SO2 emitters on the updated list are responsible for 12 percent of all SO2 emissions with a non-natural origin. The figure is staggering and can decisively impact regional air quality.
Scientists based their updated estimates on satellite images taken by NASA’s Aura spacecraft.
The imagery also revealed 75 new sources of SO2 pollution with a natural origin such as dormant volcanoes that leak the toxic chemical continuously. Many of these volcanoes lie in locations that don’t allow environmental agencies to keep an eye on them.
Nickolay Krotkov, one of the NASA scientists involved in the research, noted that without the new data analysis techniques these volcanoes and many of the human-made sources of air pollution would have been impossible to detect.
The new techniques allowed researchers to detect even small concentrations of SO2 with enhanced accuracy. These emissions can come from medium-sized power plants and minor oil and gas activities.
Image Source: Pixabay