09 Feb 2024, 11:43

World's biggest flying lab comes to Asia on air pollution mission

CLARK, Philippines, Feb 9, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - NASA has kicked off a series of
marathon flights in Asia with the world's biggest flying laboratory, in an
ambitious mission to improve the models that help to forecast and fight air

Millions of deaths each year are linked to air pollution, and improving the
ability to identify its sources and behaviour can lead to more accurate
warning systems for the public.

Starting this week in the Philippines, the US agency's DC-8 is flying for up
to eight hours at a time -- sometimes just 15 metres (50 feet) from the
ground -- to swoop up air particles for study.

"We can provide direct measurements of how much pollution is coming from
different sources. And that's one of the primary inputs to the air quality
forecasting models," NASA's Barry Lefer told reporters Thursday at Clark
International Airport, around 80 km (50 miles) north of Manila.

Air quality forecasting relies on readings from ground stations as well as
satellites, but both methods are limited in their ability to see how
pollutants are spread in the air, according to experts.

Readings from aircraft can help fill that gap, improve the interpretation of
satellite data, and lead to more accurate models.

Combining the air, space and ground readings is necessary for policies
"regarding public health, regarding industrial compliance, regarding...
ecosystem preservation and conservation", said Maria Antonia Loyzaga,
secretary of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Packed with dozens of highly sensitive instruments, the NASA lab has flown
twice so far this week in a figure-eight pattern over some of the most
densely populated areas of the Philippines, including the capital region,
according to the tracking site FlightAware.

It has been accompanied by a smaller NASA Gulfstream jet whose instruments
can create three-dimensional maps of pollutants in the air.

In the coming weeks, the jets will also conduct research flights over South
Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

Results from the study will be shared with the public after a year, NASA
programme officials said.

The project, named ASIA-AQ, is a collaboration between the US agency and
governments in a region with some of the highest air pollution-linked death
rates in the world.

Manila Observatory scientist Maria Cambaliza told reporters Thursday that
about a third of global air pollution-linked deaths are recorded in Asia.

In the Philippines, she added, there are 100 such deaths per 100,000 people.

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