NASA satellite data can improve forecasts of dust storms in the American Southwest in ways that can benefit public health managers. Scientists announced the finding as a five-year NASA-funded project nears its conclusion.
Led by investigators Stanley Morain of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and William Sprigg of the University of Arizona in Tucson, scientists evaluated the influence of space-based observations on predictions of dust storms. Using NASA satellite data, forecasters could more accurately predict the timing of two out of three dust events.
NASA's Public Health Applications in Remote Sensing project, or PHAiRS, released a report on the study this month. Such forecasting capability is the first step toward a reporting system that health officials could use to warn at-risk populations of health threats and respond quickly to dust-related epidemics.
"The program has been successful in its work to improve dust storms predictions, which has important implications for air quality and respiratory distress warnings," said John Haynes, Public Health Applications program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Dust and the pathogens it carries have been blamed for exacerbating some cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including asthma. Dust also obscures visibility on roads, which can contribute to closures and traffic accidents.
NASA launched PHAiRS in 2004 to identify how satellites could help modeling and forecasting of dust storms and to enhance a computer-based system that health managers can use to report and respond to dust-related health symptoms.
The key to better dust forecasts is to represent accurately the features that influence the behavior of dust: land topography, the proportion of land to water, and surface roughness.
"Dust modeling always has relied on surface characteristics that we knew were wrong," Sprigg said.
For instance, information in pre
|Contact: Stephen Cole|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center