Image from TERRA
Mon, 08 Mar 2021 12:00 EST

Farmers, researchers, meteorologists and others now have access to high-resolution NASA data on soil moisture, thanks to a new tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in collaboration with NASA and George Mason University.

Image from TERRA
Thu, 04 Feb 2021 10:00 EST

NASA satellite data helps people maintain thousands of freshwater pumps by highlighting places in Africa most at-risk for drought.

Image from TERRA
Thu, 05 Nov 2020 13:05 EST

Annapolis, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; and Miami were originally built and mapped to provide enough protection against flooding, but sea level rise has caused that buffer to shrink.


MOPITT News and Events

The Principal Investigator for the Measurements Of Pollution In the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on-board Terra, James R. Drummond, was awarded the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Insitut Alouette Award. The Alouette Award is awarded in recognition of outstanding contributions to the advancement of Canadian space technology, application, science, or engineering. Read the entire press release from CASI.

CASI Aloutte Award Press Release

Jim Drummond has been the Principal Investigator for a spectacularly successful Canadian satellite instrument for three decades, and also has made many invaluable contributions to Canada’s space program over the course of his long and distinguished career. These contributions, combined with his impassioned and tireless leadership in the satellite community, both nationally and internationally, have provided a body of research and accomplishments that make him an outstanding recipient of this prestigious award.

Jim is best-known in the space community for his leadership of the Canadian-led space instrument MOPITT (Measurement Of Pollution In The Troposphere) from conception to launch to celebrating its 20th anniversary on orbit. MOPITT was launched on NASA’s Terra satellite on December 18, 1999 and since then has made more than 1.3 billion measurements, resulting in over 470 publications. MOPITT measures carbon monoxide, and is notable for producing the first continuous global tropospheric chemical measurements from satellite and for mapping the global transport of pollution. MOPITT is a Canadian instrument; conceived, designed and constructed in Canada.

Jim began his scientific career at the University of Oxford where he completed his D.Phil. and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, joining the Physics Department at the University of Toronto in 1979. Jim was the first person to thoroughly develop the concept of the length-modulated radiometer, recognizing the advantages that it offered over pressure-modulated radiometers. Jim and his students developed both balloon-borne and ground-based instruments based on these principles. In the late 1980s, he conceived the original concept for a nadir-viewing satellite instrument capable of measuring tropospheric constituents, including the acquisition of some vertical information using a combination of pressure-modulated cells to probe the upper troposphere and length-modulated cells for the lower troposphere.

Jim’s dedication culminated in the successful launch of the MOPITT instrument in 1999. Twenty years post-launch, Jim continues to be the Principal Investigator for MOPITT, leading an international team of Co-Investigators, including colleagues from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, which is responsible for the retrievals.

MOPITT is the first satellite instrument to make long-term global measurements of tropospheric pollutants, focusing on carbon monoxide. It is an eight-channel scanning radiometer that measures upwelling thermal emission and reflected solar radiation from the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. As PI, Jim maintained an active participation in every aspect of the MOPITT instrument design, testing, and characterization, taking a hands-on approach. As one colleague remarked at an international meeting some years ago, after hearing Jim give a talk on the MOPITT instrument, “it’s impressive how well he knows every detail of that instrument inside-out”.

Jim and the Terra satellite team received the 2019 William T. Pecora Team Award from NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The citation notes that “Terra is arguably one of the most successful Earth-sensing satellites ever deployed.” The citation also says that MOPITT was the first instrument “designed to observe the distribution and transport of tropospheric carbon monoxide and, along with other sensors, has helped advance our understanding of air quality and biomass burning emissions.”

Jim is a highly active contributor in the national and international scientific community including service on multiple high-level committees. Of particular relevance to space, he is currently a member of the federal government’s Space Advisory Board and a Member of CSA’s Atmospheric Science Advisory Committee. He was the founding President of the Canadian Network of Northern Research Operators (CNNRO), which was established to advance the collective interests of Canada’s northern research infrastructure operators. From 2014 to 2018, he was the Chair of the Forum of Arctic Research Operators (FARO), which has 20 member nations and aims to facilitate and optimise logistics and operational support for scientific research in the Arctic. Other international roles include Member of the Steering Committee for Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change, Member and Secretary of the International Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution, and Canadian Representative to the International Association for Meteorology and Atmospheric Science.

MOPITT measurements continue to be widely used around the world, meeting a great desire for global tropospheric measurements. MOPITT produced the first long-term global maps of carbon monoxide, including movies that clearly show the transport of the products of pollution and biomass burning plumes around the world. Without Jim’s dedication, commitment, and outstanding grasp of experimental issues, MOPITT would not be the success that it is.

“Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute Announces 2020 Senior Award Honourees.” Press Release, December 16, 2020.

NO2 and CO mean differences  maps

Difference of mean tropospheric OMI NO2 columns from 2005–2006 to 2008–2009, and from 2011–2012 to 2014–2015. The unit is 1015 mole/cm2. (G and H) same as A–F, but for MOPITT surface layer CO measurements with unit ppb (parts per billion).

A recent article published in PNAS points out that efforts to reduce nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions between 2011 – 2015 have slowed in the United States, despite previous estimates that emissions were decreasing. These “bottom-up” estimates used ground-based measurements, inventories and models to predict these smog-producing emissions. However, when viewed from above, through satellite data from MOPITT and OMI, both nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide levels have not decreased.

Researchers concluded that emissions, especially for nitrogen dioxide, have not decreased as thought because of vehicle and industrial emissions. Industrial and construction equipment emissions are growing, while heavy duty truck diesel emissions may have been overlooked in ground-based measurements.  Car emissions also continue to be a pollution source, but are now contributing a smaller proportion of total emissions.

One thing is certain, that viewing from above gives scientists the opportunity to see the whole United States, instead of relying on site specific ground based measurements.

Read more about it in the news:

Los Angeles Times: Slowdown in emissions reductions could explain stalled progress on smog, study finds

Bloomberg: Your air isn’t getting as clean as the EPA said it is

USA Today: The USA’s long battle against air pollution isn’t over yet, as air quality improvements are slowing down

Associated Press (on Tampa Bay Times website): America’s air isn’t getting cleaner as fast as it used to

McMurray 720_MODIS_06052016

NASA  Images from NASA Worldview (above) and created with data from MOPITT and MODIS (below) provided by the MOPITT Science Team. Caption by Sara Martinez-Alonso with Tassia Owen.

May 24, 2016
The Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada not only had devastating impacts on its community, but the effect on air quality was also far reaching. Along with drifting smoke, wildfires cause increases in atmospheric carbon monoxide levels.

These maps were produced using data acquired by MOPITT and MODIS, two of the instruments on board NASA’s Terra satellite. These maps document the extent and composition of the Fort McMurray fire plume on May 6th and 7th.

MOPITT measures tropospheric carbon monoxide (CO). CO is mostly produced by incomplete fuel combustion, biomass burning, and oxidation of methane and other hydrocarbons. Shown here are MOPITT retrievals of CO total column generated in near real-time for use in the ECMWF MACC-III global data assimilation and forecasting system.

MODIS analyzes, among others, atmospheric aerosols, one of the greatest sources of uncertainty in climate modeling. The MODIS map shown here depicts aerosol optical depth (AOD), a measure of the extinction of solar light by atmospheric particles.

The similarity in the features shown in the two maps is quite obvious. The plume originates near Fort McMurray (shown with an asterisk) and extends mostly southeast for more than 1000 miles (1600 km), crossing state and country boundaries.


Image from GIS Geography. 100 Earth Shattering Uses and Applications of Remote Sensing.

GIS Geography published a list of 100 uses and applications of remote sensing, where data from NASA’s Terra satellite appeared in over 10%.

Listed below are some examples of Terra data uses that made the list (numbered by their original order in the article from GIS Geography):

13. Identifying forest stands and tallying their area to estimate forest supplies (MODIS)

26. Fighting wildfires by planning firefighter dispatch (MODIS)

27. Monitoring air quality in the lower atmosphere (MOPITT)

38. Keeping tabs on the shift from rural to urban growth (MODIS)

39. Quantifying crop conditions with Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI from MODIS)

59. Monitoring active volcanoes using thermal remote sensing (ASTER, MISR, and MODIS)

66. Looking at the Earth as an art masterpiece NASA’s Earth as Art | NASA Visible Earth

70. Comparing climatic factors from past to present (MODIS, CERES, MOPITT)

75. Studying geology of the Earth’s surface (ASTER, MISR, MODIS)

77. Measuring albedo for Earth’s radiation budget (CERES)

83. Delineating watersheds using DEMs for hydrologists (ASTER)

85. Using a least-cost analysis and vegetation to understand wildebeest migration (NDVI from MODIS)

Read the whole list and learn more about each of the uses and applications of remote sensing at 100 Earth Shattering Remote Sensing Applications Uses from GIS Geography

Terra images were featured on NASA’s Earth Observatory this December.

Icebergs Make Waves off South Georgia Island – Features Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images showing icebergs floating offshore of South Georgia Island, more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east-northeast of South America’s southern tip. The icebergs make waves in the atmosphere.

indonesia_mop_201509Fires Put a Carbon Monoxide Cloud over Indonesia – Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) is used to monitor carbon monoxide from fires in Indonesia.

britishcolumbia_tmo_2015333_falsecolorShades of White – MODIS images enable distinction between fog and snow from space

urals_ast_2011194The Ural Mountains – The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) captured images of the Ural Mountains.

ugab_ast_2000350Letter Y: Ugab River, Namibia
The Ugab River looks like a “Y” in the Earth Observatories feature, Reading the ABCs from Space. ASTER on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this false-colored image of the Ugab River running through what appears to be a field of yardangs in northern Namibia.

northpacific_tmo_2009063Letter N for the New Year
Shiptracks in the atmosphere are visible in this image from NASA’s Terra satellite’s Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) as part of the new feature, Reading the ABCs from Space from NASA’s Earth Observatory. N is for New Year was the final Image of the Day for 2015.