How PurpleAir Air Quality Data is Aiding NASA Research

NASA studying air quality

How do you know if your air quality is good or bad?  

While you can use your nose and eyes to determine air quality, doing so isn’t always reliable. Air pollutants, like Particulate Matter (PM) are sometimes odorless and invisible to the naked eye—especially in low concentrations. As such, you won’t know you’re breathing in dangerous levels of air pollution until it has invaded your body.  

To effectively know your air quality, you need air quality data.

But there is still much to learn beyond our current knowledge of air quality. Thankfully, NASA is launching the satellites MAIA and TEMPO to further study air quality and its impact on human health and the environment.   

We always interact with our PurpleAir Community to see what projects are happening. Together, we’re cultivating a community and empowering members with the data they need to tackle air pollution worldwide. We believe in making air quality knowledge accessible to everyone—and we’re not alone in that mission.    

Today, we’re excited to share how NASA research is forwarding air quality endeavours with the help of PurpleAir air quality monitors.  

What is MAIA-TEMPO?  

MAIA-TEMPO are projects that fall under NASA’s Earth Venture Instrument program. They aim to enhance our understanding of air quality and how it’s affected by factors such as storms and climate.  

  • MAIA stands for Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols and focuses on studying the effects of the different types of particulate matter on human health. It uses space-based technology to observe the size, shape, and composition of the various particle pollution in the air.  
  • TEMPO is short for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution and studies trace gases, including ozone and nitrogen dioxide. It’s the first space-based technology that records the hourly daytime pollutants of North America using a UV-visible spectrometer.  

TEMPO was launched last April 2023, and MAIA will be launched in 2024.  

How NASA Research is Using PurpleAir Air Quality Data 

While MAIA and TEMPO use advanced technology to monitor air quality, they still face limitations. One example is when temperature inversions trap air pollution on the ground level. Because of this, the ground-level and top-level air quality data can significantly vary.  

Another is that natural events like dust storms can obstruct the satellite’s sensors. As such, its air quality data won’t accurately represent on-the-ground levels of air pollution.  

To supplement their data, NASA is working with local schools and community scientists to install low-cost air quality monitors, like PurpleAir, in their area. Through this, NASA can further understand how air pollution moves and changes within the layers of Earth’s atmosphere. 

An additional benefit of this project is that it engages students and educational professionals by involving them in air quality monitoring. It teaches younger generations the importance of air quality and the impact of air pollution.  

NASA’s school partners in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina have already installed PurpleAir air quality monitors. A PurpleAir air quality monitoring station at Sitting Bull College, North Dakota, also serves as a validation site for TEMPO data.

Further Implications of the MAIA-TEMPO Projects  

With the launch of MAIA and TEMPO, NASA hopes to gain a more comprehensive picture of how air pollution impacts the quality of life in the short and long term. It’s also working to revolutionize air quality forecasts using the dense and diverse air quality data it has collected. 

Get Involved Yourself 

At PurpleAir, there are tons of community projects going on around the world. We’re thrilled to see these kinds of collaborative efforts, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future. Are you working on a community project with PurpleAir’s air quality monitors? 

We would love to hear about it. Share a post in the Community Project forum, so we can highlight your work. Together, we can make air quality accessible for everyone.