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 NASA Air Quality

NASA Urban Air Quality Modeling Research Project:

Measuring the Impact of Land Cover Changes on Air Quality

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In October 2001, NASA began a three-year federally funded grant project to develop and validate an improved urban air quality modeling system using high-resolution remote sensing data.  Cool Communities, GRTA (Georgia Regional Transportation Authority), and Georgia Environmental Protection Division are partners in support of NASA�s research effort.  The Atlanta Regional Commission and the U.S. EPA Region IV are serving in an advisory and consulting role for the project.  The research will be based on the metro Atlanta region as a follow-up to a previous NASA study (Project ATLANTA) on Atlanta�s Urban Heat Island.  

The NASA project represents a significant change in approach to modeling air quality in that it aims to create an integrated land cover and emission control model to improve air quality in the Atlanta region.


The objective of the new project was to develop an air quality modeling system that will allow stakeholders the opportunity to quantify the impact of land cover and land use changes on air quality, particularly on ground level ozone.  Cool Communities� heat island mitigation strategies, such as increased tree canopy and lighter reflective materials for roofing and paving, were tested and evaluated for their potential to be implemented through policy changes and/or voluntary incentives. Considerations were reviewed in terms of feasibility, practicality, economics, scope and implementation incentives.

 Reduction in urban temperatures through land cover changes offers a new and promising method of ozone mitigation as an additional component to traditional strategies involving emission control.  Research has shown that heat island mitigation strategies can reduce summer temperatures: however, quantifying the impact of temperature reduction on air quality has proven to be a much more difficult task given the limitations of current air quality models.  Initial results indicate that more refined modeling programs will be needed, combining complex meteorological data with improved land cover data in order to validate and quantify air quality benefits from heat island mitigation strategies.

Recognizing the difficulty in developing models to capture the air quality benefits of heat island mitigation strategies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently developed a policy to incorporate �emerging measures,� such as urban heat island mitigation, into a State Implementation Plan (SIP) for air quality attainment or maintenance by providing some flexibility in meeting established SIP requirements for enforceability and quantification.  With this new policy, �the EPA supports and encourages the testing of merging new pollutant reduction strategies.�  


    Researchers:  NASA Global Hydrology and Climate Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

    Partners:  Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Cool Communities, DigitalGlobe (satellite imaging) 

    Consultants/Advisors: U.S. EPA Region IV, Atlanta Regional Commission, Georgia Tech, Georgia Dept. of Transportation, Georgia Power. 


For additional information, link to NASA web site or Georgia Trend Magazine, November 2002 Issue, "Thinking Clean and Green"