Atmospheric scientists are one step closer to improving the use of satellites to measure air quality and surface pollution, thanks to a new partnership.

The DISCOVER-AQ mission, which stands for Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality, is being led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and includes monitoring at an Aberdeen Proving Ground"Edgewood site, coordinated through the U.S. Army Public Health Command. The study allows local college students to team up with scientists and experts within the public and private sector to monitor air quality remotely for public health and environmental benefits.

The first phase of this four-phase mission is being conducted through collaboration with numerous federal, state and local agencies including the USAPHC, Maryland Department of the Environment, Pennsylvania State University, Millersville University and the University of Maryland.
For a six-week period this summer, the scientists and students used ground-based instruments, airborne equipment aboard NASA aircraft, and weather balloons to monitor air quality at several locations in the Baltimore/Washington region, including APG.

“These airplanes are simulating what a satellite would see,” said Doug Martins, a post-doctoral researcher at Penn State University.

The equipment in the planes can measure meteorological conditions, the level of air pollutants to include ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

“It’s really exciting to have an active role in data collection,” said Martins. “It’s a unique experience.”

In order to help verify measurement data from the satellite, Penn State researchers release helium-filled balloons to measure meteorological and air quality conditions around the same time that the airborne equipment is sampling.

“The balloons are equipped with instrumentation measuring ozone, pressure, temperature and relative humidity,” said Martins. “This information is recorded and compared with the results of the satellite to see if the results are similar.”

Officials from the USAPHC’s Army Institute of Public Health said if the satellite monitoring is successful, the advancements could be groundbreaking.

“This research is quite useful and can be very beneficial to the U.S. Army Public Health Command,” said John Resta, director of the AIPH.

Through the Deployment Environment Surveillance Program, the USAPHC collects, analyzes and reports results of air sampling in deployed locations like Kuwait and Afghanistan. The NASA-led research has the potential to benefit the Army by identifying possible air pollutants that deployed forces might face while allowing public health specialists to collect air samples remotely. Atmospheric monitoring via satellite could increase monitoring efficiency"air samples could even be collected during maneuver warfare"and have a safety benefit.

“If we can monitor air quality remotely, we may be able to deploy less people to a war zone, therefore keeping them out of harm’s way,” said Resta.

The NASA study also has more immediate benefits to APG, where the Maryland Department of the Environment already operates an air monitoring station.

“One of the reasons we are active participants in this program is because it allows us to compare our results to the results of NASA,” said Terry Meade, an environmental scientist and USAPHC project lead for the coordinated efforts with the DISCOVER-AQ mission. “This comparison helps us validate our equipment, and ensure we are doing quality work.”

Just as this partnership benefits scientists and researchers at the USAPHC and other agencies, the students involved in the DISCOVER-AQ project said the program has been a highlight of their summer.

“It is quite rewarding to come out to the field and apply what we learned in class to actual hands-on training with these federal, local and state agencies,” said Hannah Halliday, a graduate student in the meteorology department at Penn State University.

Ryan Stauffer, a fellow graduate student at Penn State agreed.

“What we are doing here at Aberdeen Proving Ground allows us to put our science to use,” said Stauffer. “It is so much more interesting than sitting in a classroom.”