Fighting pollution from outer space

Sentinel 5P orbiting the Earth

Looks awesome, right? That’s the Sentinel 5P, a new satellite from the European Space Agency and part of the Copernicus program that was launched just this week. It flew into orbit and opened up its solar panels, positioning itself for work in the next 15 years!

How is this important for the air pollution in Macedonia?

The Sentinel 5P has a very interesting instrument onboard — Tropomi. It is able to measure multiple types of pollutants in our atmosphere (NO₂, O₃, CO, SO₂, CH₄, and CH₂O), report back near-real-time data every 3 hours, and do a full scan of the Earth in just one day.

Type of pollutants Tromopi can detect

All this came to my attention while visiting the European Space Agency’s Open Day at their offices in the Netherlands last week. Stumbling upon a stand featuring the Sentinel program, the words “air quality” caught my eye. It was a very lucky coincidence, but I got to talk to both people from ESA working on the Sentinel 5P as well as the team from Tropomi who created the instrument.

I realized that the data they will gather would help our fight in Macedonia tremendously, allowing us to correlate the information from the satellite to the sensory data from ground stations, creating a clearer picture of the sources of pollution.

While we wait for the Sentinel 5P to start transmitting its readings back to Earth (around March 2018), I started digging around other, older sources of satellite data available online and found imagery taken by Sentinel 2, an older sibling of 5P. While I am still gathering and analyzing them, I do want to just give you a taste of what it shows. Check out this photo of our capital — Skopje, taken on the 20th of December last year. The red area you see is the smog, covering every inch of the city in dense, toxic air.

Sentinel 2 aerial photo of Skopje (20/12/2016) — the red is smog

The situation is visibly dire, as the pollution season has begun again in my motherland. But we shall not give up in this fight. For our families, for our friends, and for our fellow citizens, we shall not stop until that image up there is fully green!

Are you interested in more? Follow this publication or me on social media, where I will share the continuation of this series as I gather and analyze more satellite data, preparing for the next toxic winter.

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