Japan considers smog observation satellite

(4 August 2008).The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is considering building and launching a geostationary satellite to observe, around the clock, air pollution coming to Japan from China and other East Asian countries, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.

The satellite’s purpose is to find sources of air pollutants, including exhaust gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emitted from factories. It will utilize the information it gathers to issue early-stage photochemical smog warnings.

The satellite would be the first in the world to monitor such information on a 24-hour basis. The agency is considering launching the satellite in 2014 at the earliest.

There are many types of cross-border pollution, including acid rain, yellow dust and photochemical smog.

Last year, photochemical smog warnings were issued in a record 28 prefectures, including Oita and Niigata, where such warnings had never before been issued. Photochemical smog can cause health problems such as sore throats and eye irritation.

A panel special to the Japanese Environment Ministry compiled a report at the end of the year on the increase in photochemical oxidant, which causes the smog. The report stated that the oxidant was caused partly by pollutants from China and other East Asian countries.

Satellite air pollution observation has been conducted by European countries and the United States since the late 1990s.

However, current observational satellites can only record data in a specific region only once a day, and observation hours are limited. Therefore, it is difficult to specify pollutant sources and analyze pollutant transfer pathways.

China’s ground-based observation system is insufficient for observing air pollution. Also, China has sporadically refused to disclose pollutant information.

In addition, the Japanese Environment Ministry launched a project this year to announce information on yellow sand damage in South Korea and other locations.

Because the Japanese government was concerned about the situation, an atmospheric chemistry study group comprising scientists was established last year in to develop the new satellite. The research group proposed to JAXA a plan to build a satellite equipped with two types of sensors that could precisely observe pollution emissions and pollutant transfer in grids ranging from 0.8 to 3.9 square miles.

The agency will request that emitter countries regulate pollutant emissions based on the information the satellite collects.

Toru Fukuda, director of JAXA’s Earth Observation Research Center, said: “In the future, it’ll be important to have an environmental satellite that’s closely connected to people’s daily lives. We hope to finalize our plan to build an air pollution observation satellite by the end of this fiscal year.”

JAXA is already planning to launch four environmental satellites, including one to observe greenhouse gases, by 2013.


Author: EARSC

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