EO Detective ID YO8-1809-RJP-seals

What do you work on?

Richard presentingI use satellite images and data to monitor the extent of atmospheric pollution. It is important to be able to understand this because it’s estimated to cause over 3 million premature deaths per year across the world. In the western world, levels of air pollution are improving, but in emerging economies the problem is increasing, and some of the things I’ve found out about how the problem is dealt with have been particularly eye opening. Being able to monitor various gases from space and produce reliable forecasts is crucial.

How did you come to be an EO Detective?

I’ve always been interested in the weather and what drives it so I studied Meteorology at university. I then went on to do a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry Modelling and Earth Observation, which was a great chance to improve my knowledge of the atmosphere — and be funded to do it.

What do these diagrams tell us?

Europe NO2The European map shows the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the troposphere. Red = high pollution and blue = low pollution (being more specific, the units are x 1015 molecules/cm2).

rp-combinedImage (a) zooms in on part of Northern England and shows pollution from some of the major cities as well as three big power stations. Image (b) shows the data for a windy day, when most of the pollution is blown out into the North Sea but image (c) is from a very calm day. It is easy to see that the NO2 levels are highest directly above the power stations and therefore that these are the cause of the high levels seen in this region on the larger map.

Lightning mapThe world map shows the number of lightning flashes at various places between 1998 and 2013.

How is the data you use collected?

The data I use is collected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI)  on board the NASA’s Aura satellite and the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) on NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). A second one of these is due to be sent to the ISS in 2016.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Getting to understand the natural environment is interesting and I like that I am able to share results and information with the public to make a difference.

Tell us about your favourite image of the Earth from space

A nighttime view of Europe

This is a NASA image showing night-time light pollution over Europe. It nicely highlights the extent of energy used by humans and the spread of continental urbanisation. It also gives us an insight into the nightlife/activity of people. It’s actually a composite image, assembled using data from the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy lots of sports such as cycling, squash and badminton. I also enjoy a quiet night in watching a movie.