The Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network: How It Validates Air Quality Data

Scientists monitoring the MPLCAN

Just because air pollution is out of sight doesn’t make it out of mind.  

Air pollution can travel through the atmosphere and over long distances, crossing city lines and country borders. As such, events like wildfires in Canada can still affect you even when you live in as far away as Spain 

"We don't always see forest fire smoke, but we quite often see events that are related to pollution. And pollution, a lot of times is not all local; you're getting pollution from somewhere else," Robert Sica, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Western Ontario explains.  

To better understand the far-reaching effects of air pollution, researchers and air quality organizations in Canada teamed up with NASA to develop the Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network.  

In this article, we’re covering how the Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network is working together with PurpleAir monitors. Then we’ll see how their work is helping scientists better understand the behavior and impact of air pollution. 

What is the Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network? 

The Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network (MPLCAN) is an air quality project that studies air quality in Canada. It specifically studies the effects of aerosol and particle pollution on atmospheric gases like ozone, the formation of fog and clouds, and pollutant tracking. This network also pays special attention to the particle pollution from wildfire smoke and how it travels. 

In doing so, the project aims to: 

  • Aid in forest fires, air quality, and emergency management by building a smoke and particulate tracking network. 
  • Help assess the impact of profiling measurements on surface total column measurements. 
  • Establish profiling measurements that improve the modeling of cloud and fog development. 

The MPLCAN is part of the NASA Micro-Pulse Lidar Network under the Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONOT) and has been active since 1999. By using micro-pulse lidar technology, it records air quality data on aerosols, cloud vertical structure, cloud presence, aerosol column, and optical depth.  

In short, micro-pulse lidars can measure the amount, type, height, and distance of particulates in the atmosphere. At the same time, this technology can distinguish particulates from clouds, precipitation, ice, and fog. It can also measure the different layers of smoke particles from wildfires in the upper troposphere and stratosphere. 

How the Canadian Micro-Pulse Lidar Network Uses PurpleAir 

PurpleAir data embedded on the MPLNCAN website 


While the micro-pulse lidar is a robust technology, MPLCAN needed another device to validate and test its air quality data. So, the members decided to use PurpleAir air quality monitors. 

PurpleAir air quality monitors have established a reputation in the scientific and academic community for their highly precise and reliable air quality data. A study by Southcoast AQMD reports that the PurpleAir Classic has a 97% correlation with FEM/FRM fine particulate matter concentration. Additionally, it’s being used by credible intuitions like NASA and ExactAQ for their own air quality initiatives and programs. 

Because of this, PurpleAir has one of the most extensive air quality maps in the world, with over 20,000 global users. With the help of these air quality monitors, MPLCAN can collect stronger air quality data to aid them in their research on Canadian air quality.  

As Sica states, “Because the real strength in these kinds of measurements we're doing is having [air quality] networks, not just one or two sites; the more sites you have, the more interesting science you can do.” 

Already, MPLCAN has placed PurpleAir air quality monitors in the micro-pulse lidar sites: 

  • Western University in London, Ontario 
  • Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia 
  • Sherbrooke, Quebec 
  • Toronto, Ontario 

MPLCAN has also integrated data from the air quality monitor and the PurpleAir Map on its website. This way, researchers can easily access real-time data and further air quality studies. Additionally, MPLCAN plans to extend its project to Northern Canada to increase its reach.   

We look forward to the discoveries of the MPLCAN project. With it, we can hopefully improve the air quality we breathe. 

Connect With PurpleAir 

At PurpleAir, there are tons of organizations around the world using our data—from Google to the EPA. We’re thrilled to read about research like this being used to help businesses, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future. 

Are you a technology company or institution looking to work with PurpleAir? 

We’d love to connect and see how we can help you. Whether you’re interested in our air quality monitors or using our air quality data for your projects, feel free to reach out.