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New NASA Images Show Pollution Levels in Dallas Area

The images come from a new instrument in space that will provide hourly updates on air pollution across North America — a satellite called TEMPO that tracks pollutants on an hourly basis.

smoke pollution
(TNS) — New images released by NASA show Dallas is among the nation’s hotspots for air pollution, largely driven by the region’s tangle of highways and relentless traffic.

The images come from a new instrument in space that will provide hourly updates on air pollution across North America. The satellite, called TEMPO, tracks nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants on an hourly basis.

Researchers last month released the first images, which depict changes in nitrogen dioxide over the course of a day. Detailed views show high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over a number of U.S. regions, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. High concentrations were also detected over New Orleans, Los Angeles and the I-95 corridor between New York and Washington, D.C.

Maps show high levels of nitrogen dioxide over major highways in Dallas and other cities in the morning and late afternoon, coinciding with spikes in rush-hour traffic, according to NASA, which captured the data Aug. 2.

Nitrogen dioxide has been linked to cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and respiratory issues, such as asthma. The poisonous gas comes from the burning of fossil fuels, with traffic one of the biggest contributors. It also comes from wildfires and fertilizer application .

The data falls within a summer of near-record heat in Texas and elsewhere and numerous warnings for poor air quality as a result of wildfires in Canada.

TEMPO will be able to track air pollution at a resolution of just a few square miles, enabling researchers to study the health effects of pollutants and develop air pollution maps by neighborhood, NASA said in a news release. That can help policymakers better understand disparities in air quality within a community.

Jenny Narvaez, program manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the maps could help city and transportation planners pinpoint problem areas and identify additional sources of air pollution. The first set of images did not reveal anything particularly surprising for the Dallas region, Narvaez added.

“Our cars have gotten significantly cleaner over the years, but they do still emit nitrogen dioxide,” she said. “And we have a lot of cars on our roads, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon.”

Earlier this year, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked No. 18 for worst ozone pollution in the U.S., faring better than Houston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

TEMPO will begin full operations in October. The instrument measures sunlight reflected and scattered off Earth’s surface, clouds and atmosphere, according to NASA. Gases in the atmosphere absorb the sunlight, and the resulting spectra depict concentrations of pollutants.

In addition to nitrogen dioxide, the instrument measures ozone, formaldehyde, aerosols, water vapor and several trace gasses.

© 2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.