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Breath of the dragon: ERS-2 and Envisat reveal impact of economic growth on China's air quality

ion patterns and meteorology. For example more fuel is burned for heating and nitrogen dioxide persists longer in the atmosphere at that less sunny time of year - lasting around a day rather than hours, as in the summer. "Meteorology also plays a role. There is a peak before Christmas: this is not because industrial activity, domestic heating or transportation is suddenly reduced after the holiday season but because there is an eastward outflow of air that was previously revolving around Asia. This is the same type of phenomenon that carries dust from the Gobi Desert across to the West Coast of the US."

China is reliant on coal to meet 75% of its national energy needs, and that means high levels of another atmospheric pollutant called sulphur dioxide (SO2) also detectable by SCIAMACHY. Large SO2 sources over China that overlap with nitrogen dioxide plumes are linked to power plants. Further to the west there is also sulphur dioxide produced from smouldering underground coal seam fires.

Burrows is the scientist who - supported by an international team - proposed both GOME and SCIAMACHY to national space agencies and ESA in the first place. He explained that the two instruments were originally chosen to fly because of their ability to measure stratospheric ozone, but were also selected in order to investigate the amount of useful information that could be retrieved from the troposphere.

"The instruments are now being used to monitor a significant number of key tropospheric trace gases including formaldehyde, methane, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide and dioxide," Burrows remembers. "Back when we were starting out, many people thought it would be impossible to get any useful results out of the troposphere. There are many important issues to deal with, such as cloud cover and the highly variable reflectivity of the surface, as well as having the absorption or emission of stratospheric and upper atmospheric species situated between the tro
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Source:European Space Agency


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