NASA’s TEMPO Keeps a Watchful Eye on North America’s Air, One Hour at a Time

NASA’s TEMPO Keeps a Watchful Eye on North America’s Air, One Hour at a Time

Early results from NASA’s TEMPO satellite are remarkably promising, prompting the agency to consider extending its mission beyond its initial 20-month lifespan. Launched in April 2023, TEMPO is the first geostationary satellite dedicated to tracking air pollution over North America, providing hourly updates on a range of atmospheric pollutants. This is a significant leap from previous satellites that offered daily or less frequent snapshots.

TEMPO’s impressive performance has impressed NASA officials, who are now exploring ways to keep the satellite operational for up to 10 years. “We want TEMPO to last for 10 years, if possible,” said Barry Lefer, NASA’s tropospheric composition program manager, at the recent American Geophysical Union meeting. “So, we are going to baby it.”

TEMPO’s capabilities are groundbreaking:

  • Hourly air quality updates: TEMPO provides a near real-time view of air pollution, allowing scientists to track the movement and evolution of pollutants with unprecedented detail.
  • Wider coverage: Unlike previous satellites that focused on specific areas, TEMPO monitors air quality across North America, from Canada’s oil sands to the Yucatán Peninsula and the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
  • Enhanced data: TEMPO collects a broader spectrum of data than previous satellites, enabling scientists to study a wider range of pollutants and their interactions.

The data collected by TEMPO is already proving valuable:

  • Validating models: NASA researchers are comparing TEMPO’s data with airborne measurements to ensure its accuracy and refine air quality models.
  • Improving forecasts: TEMPO’s data is being shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve air quality forecasting.
  • Public access: A public release of validated TEMPO data is expected in April 2024, empowering individuals and communities to make informed decisions about their health and environment.

TEMPO is not alone in its mission:

  • Global collaboration: It is part of a virtual constellation of air quality monitoring satellites, including South Korea’s GEMS and the European Space Agency’s upcoming satellite, providing comprehensive coverage of the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Paving the way for the future: TEMPO’s success paves the way for future missions like NOAA’s Atmospheric Composition Instrument, scheduled for launch in the mid-2030s.

NASA’s TEMPO satellite is revolutionizing our understanding of air pollution and its impact on human health and the environment. With its exceptional performance and the potential for an extended mission, TEMPO is poised to make a significant contribution to a cleaner and healthier future.