Plumes of several anthropogenic pollutants (especially particulate matter and carbon monoxide) located near ground level over China have for the first time been detected from space. The work was carried out by a team at the Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (CNRS / UPMC / UVSQ)1 in collaboration with Belgian researchers and with support from CNES, using measurements by the IASI2 infrared sounder launched on board the MetOp3 satellite. Their groundbreaking results are published online on the website of the journal Geophysical Research Letters dated 17 January 2014. They represent a crucial step towards improved monitoring of regional pollution and forecasting of local pollution episodes, especially in China.
Despite efforts by the Chinese government to reduce surface emissions, China is repeatedly affected by major air pollution episodes. This has become an important public health issue, since air pollution causes more than 300,000 premature deaths in China each year. In January 2013, Beijing suffered an unprecedented pollution episode, mainly due to seasonal coal consumption and unfavorable weather conditions (lack of wind plus temperature inversion) that trapped the pollutants at ground level. In many regions, atmospheric concentrations of particulate matter (PM) reached values considered harmful to human health, sometimes exceeding the daily threshold recommended by the World Health Organization
(25 µg/m3) by a factor of nearly 40.