EO Detective ID LS3-2904-TDK-CNCSW
What do you work on?
The focus of my work is to test our understanding of atmospheric composition, particularly concentrations of ozone (O3), ozone precursors (e.g. CO and NO2) and particles in the troposphere (aerosol).
Both aerosol and ozone significantly influence air quality, damaging human and plant health, and the climate, therefore it is important to understand how emissions and the chemistry that takes place in the atmosphere affects the concentrations of these.
I do this by comparing data from ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting) models to observations made on the ground or from planes. Doing this allows us to identify potential gaps in our knowledge of what is in our atmosphere.
How did you come to be an EO Detective?
I studied Chemistry at the University of Leicester followed by a masters in Atmospheric Chemistry. I’ve always been interested in understanding how the natural world works and how what we do influences it. I see working with models and earth observations as the best way to find out about changes in the atmosphere.
What do the images show?
Data assimilation combines information about the earth from observations and models. The analyses produced are considered to be the best estimate of the current state of the system and are often used as a starting point for weather and air quality forecasts.
The plots show the total amount of carbon monoxide (CO), worldwide as calculated from a model alone, using the model with earth observations assimilated and the difference between the two. This allows us to work out where the two sources of information are giving different answers and so improve the model. In this case, adding in the observations gives higher levels of CO over the northern hemisphere, the southern Atlantic and sub-Saharan Africa and much lower levels over Indonesia. This suggests that the model is under predicting the influence of transport emissions in the northern hemisphere and biomass burning in the Amazon and sub-Saharan Africa, but over predicting the influence of the same process over Indonesia.
How is the data you use collected?
I use data from various instruments on several different satellites to find out about a range of gases:
- MODIS (MODerate-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites to detect aerosol and fire
- MOPITT (Measurements Of Pollutants In The Troposphere), which is also on Terra, and IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interforemeter) on ESA’s MetOp series of satellites for CO
- OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) on NASA’s Aura satellite for O3 and NO2
- MLS (Microwave Limb Sounder), also on Aura, for stratospheric O3.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I enjoy being able to think critically and produce some good-looking plots.
Tell us about your favourite image of the Earth from space
Earthrise, taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, has been described as ‘the most influential environmental photograph ever taken’. I think this photo shows the world as both beautiful and vulnerable, which in some cases it is. The photo is also a prime example of how different things can look from another perspective.
What do you do in your spare time?
Listen to live music, follow sports and spend far too much time on the computer.