South Korea using NASA to fight pollution

NASA Plane_404638

(CNN) – NASA is using space-age technology to fight air pollution in South Korea. It’s a persistent problem there and the new effort could help clear up where the dirty air is coming from.

A beautiful sunrise masked by a lingering haze one of the reasons this dc-8 jetliner is here in South Korea.

This flying laboratory will find out what pollutants are here, who is causing them and how they can be measured more accurately from space.

Eight hours flying the length and breadth of South Korea, over cities, mountains and sea, collecting and analyzing data.

The equipment on board is state of the art – the plane is not. It’s almost half a century old, it started flying in 1969 as part of the Alitalia fleet, the Italian airline. But it has been completely refitted for NASA’s purposes 25 different instruments for measuring pollution and 34 scientists.

All of them excited to be part of this mission a joint study with the South Korean environment agency.

Jack Dibb, of SAGA said, “Well I don’t think it’s a discovery, but the air here is pretty dirty but we kind of knew that.”

South Korea has long blamed china for much of the pollution so-called yellow dust is known to blow in from deserts in Mongolia and northern china, picking up some toxic hitch-hikers along the way.

But fine dust particles, very detrimental to your health, may often originate closer to home.

Andreas Beyersdorf, of LARGE said, “The flight we’re on today, we’ve seen the largest pollution that we’ve seen the entire campaign and most of that is coming from local sources.”

To capture some of this data, the plane has to fly low involving skillful flying from former air force pilots and some deft negotiating with air traffic controllers. And a fair dose of turbulence.

It’s not every day you fly just a few hundred feet over the center of a 10 million strong metropolis.

Nicola Blake, of WAS said, “It’s great to look at things with satellites and a lot of them are new and they’re reporting great data but unless you actually physically measure the atmosphere in situ, you’re very limited.”

South Korea ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in terms of air quality in a recent study by Yale university but this year’s environmental performance index underlines the fact it is a global problem, saying more than 3.5 billion people, half of the world’s population, live in nations with unsafe air quality.

As more than one scientist onboard told me, at least South Korea is acknowledging there is a problem and opening up its airspace to NASA and its expertise.

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