WASHINGTON — NASA and its partners today unveiled a new way to connect satellite air quality data with communities in Central America and the Caribbean. The MesoAmerican and Caribbean Smog Blog, a Web site interpreting local and regional air quality, was introduced at a news conference in Panama City in conjunction with a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) in the Americas symposium.
The Smog Blog provides timely information about air pollution and its sources in the region, helping the public, governments, and health officials monitor air quality and mitigate negative health impacts. The blog is written by faculty and students at the University of Panama and staff from the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC). It is the newest addition to SERVIR (Spanish for "to serve"), a regional environmental monitoring system that leverages the satellite resources of the United States and other countries to put Earth observation data and other tools into action in Central America.
"CATHALAC has truly taken a leadership role in understanding how NASA atmospheric research information can benefit the citizens of Mesoamerica," said Teresa Fryberger, associate director of Applied Sciences in NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington and co-chair of the U.S. Group on Earth Observations. "With Smog Blog, Central American environmental and health officials will be able to better communicate warnings about hazardous air conditions so the public can take appropriate precautions."
Posts are made at least three times a week by trained personnel using information from satellites, air quality forecast models and soon-to-be-operational ground-based monitors. Satellites from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
provide air quality information of use to the region. Data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites provide a variety of atmospheric measurements. The NASA-French Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite mission provides bloggers with data about regional airborne particles. NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites provides continuous monitoring of Earth necessary for timely, intensive data analysis. Another NOAA data asset providing material is a Hazard Mapping System that detects wildfires from space and tracks the smoke they produce.
"The Smog Blog and other activities reflect the work of many partners in supporting the realization of GEOSS in the Western Hemisphere," said Emilio Sempris, director of CATHALAC. "In our region, this exciting initiative is going to improve the quality of life in vital sectors, including public health, energy, weather, climate, and agriculture."
A U.S. Smog Blog has been operated for five years by a team at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The site draws 35,000 visits a month, mainly state and local air quality forecasters. It is a daily resource for "big picture" analysis of nationwide air quality and insights into how national trends may affect communities locally. Through a NASA cooperative agreement, the U.S. Smog Blog team is working with the SERVIR collaboration to bring this communications tool to Central America.
"The Smog Blog has been a powerful communications tool here in the United States," said Erica Zell, co-developer of the Smog Blog and research scientist for Battelle Memorial Institute. "We hope through sharing real-time air quality information in this region we will make an impact in preventing future harm. Pollution and acid rain have damaged ancient Mayan ruins and air quality has immense public health impacts in this region."
Support for the new Smog Blog is provided by CATHALAC, the University of Panama, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Panama’s national environmental authority, the World Bank and Battelle Memorial Institute. NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development fund this initiative.
The Group on Earth Observations is coordinating intergovernmental efforts to build GEOSS, a network designed to better understand, monitor and forecast changes in the global environment. Driven by the 75-government Group on Earth Observations, GEOSS in the Americas is working as a catalyst for regional initiatives by advancing the use of Earth observations, encouraging shared use of data, and leveraging regional assets.
The SERVIR system, developed by researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., was introduced in 2005 in Panama at CATHALAC. SERVIR takes a global approach to environmental challenges by pooling Earth observation tools and data.