NASA just wrapped up an air-quality study that had planes flying low over D.C. and Baltimore this July. What were the results?
For those who clicked on this post for the (GRAPHIC) in the headline, please be advised there is no racy air-quality content herewith. Rather, the graphic nature of this post refers to catchy NASA models of air pollution over D.C. and Baltimore this July. For those who feel betrayed, perhaps this come-hither photo of smooth NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden makes up for it.
The space agency just wrapped up the operational stage of its project to monitor air-quality conditions in the D.C./Baltimore region, known as the Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved... ah heck, let's just call it by its acronym, DISCOVER - AQ. As mentioned before in this blog, NASA hopes that observations taken from its low-flying planes will help fine-tune satellite measurements of ozone, particulate matter, formaldehyde and other toxic ingredients that combine to create Code Orange and Code Red air-quality days. While it's not Beijing, the atmosphere stewing above the I-95 corridor is up there with the 20 smoggiest urban areas in the U.S.
The researchers have yet to crunch all the raw data into easily digestible bites, but there is some intriguing stuff leaking out. One such nugget is the magnifying effect that the ongoing heat wave has had on the filthiness of the local air. NASA's always-informative What on Earth? blog has the skinny on the story, posting side-by-side pollution models taken from July 1 and July 22. (The author, Adam Voiland, calls our heat snap "humisery.") The yellow and red areas represent particularly foul air; look at how they have grown immensely in the late-July readings:
That's all going into your mouth, folks, particularly if you exercise in the evening hours when the pollution is densest. And while I'm ripping shamelessly from Voiland, he's also posted a nifty video taken in July from the tail of one of NASA's smog-hunting aircraft. Here are the suburbs of Baltimore as you've never quite seen them before – i.e., from a plane flying about as low as you'd expect from a Colombian coca-trafficker: