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Aerial shot of Honduras.

Using Satellite Data for Air Quality and Health Applications for Latin America

Challenge

Poor air quality is an increasingly important issue throughout Latin America, with implications for human health around the region. In particular, urban air pollution, often from vehicle emissions, can lead to complications from exposure to particulate pollution, especially among vulnerable populations. While many governments recognize the health impacts due to air pollution, they may lack the tools or capacity to understand or mitigate poor air quality.

Solution

Battelle supported the SERVIR program, a joint effort by NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), by creating science applications for international development through the use of Earth observations. Focusing on air quality and health, this project involved a series of specific tasks related to air quality monitoring, analysis, forecasting and visualization for Latin America. The goals for the region were to enhance the capacity of stakeholders in air quality modeling and applications of aerosol satellite products for air quality analysis. The project also aimed to build sustainability in regional air quality modeling activities by working directly with partners in a collaborative way, emphasizing co-development and capacity building. Specific project objectives included:

  • Developing high-resolution regional tools for visualizing aerosol satellite data
  • Developing national air quality modeling systems for Latin America
  • Conducting trainings and overall capacity building to support the applications of aerosol satellite products and air quality modeling

Outcome

Battelle developed a visualization website for the region, as seen below, to depict satellite information for aerosol optical depth (AOD) and RGB data. The team worked with an Advisory Group of air quality end users in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama, to ensure that the website included the desired parameters. Battelle scientists traveled to Panama, Costa Rica, and El Salvador to meet with local partners and train stakeholders on how to use this tool for improved air quality management, as well as communicate air quality information to the media or to the public. Capacity building and outreach workshops focused on drawing connections between air quality, health, and climate change, and the ways in which NASA data and project tools could improve air quality management. The development of an air quality forecasting tool, using local emission inventory data in an experimental version of EPA’s Community Multi-scale Air Quality (CMAQ) model created for use in Central America, allowed local partners in Costa Rica and El Salvador to begin incorporating future air quality information into their planning tools and strategies. 

With additional tools and data that meet specifications and local requirements – as well as the experience and training to use them – decision-makers have improved capacity to address air quality in their regions. A partner in El Salvador, Pablo Ayala, noted that “Having two automatic stations in operation for PM2.5 beta attenuation; in combination with AOD (NASA SERVIR) satellite imagery and the numerical model CMAQ for up to 48 hours, we will have the necessary inputs to perform efficient monitoring and forecasting so that the population can be informed in a timely manner.”

 

Website with air quality data visualization

Photo of Battelle Team and members of the Panamanian reserch team and government minstries.
Decision makers from various sectors of government in El Salvador participate in a group exercise during a workshop facilitated by Battelle.
Decision makers from various sectors of government in El Salvador participate in a group exercise during a workshop facilitated by Battelle.

The Battelle team and El Salvador partners at the Ministry of Environment (MARN).
The Battelle team and El Salvador partners at the Ministry of Environment (MARN).