NASA Tech Briefs: What is the INTEX-B project?
Hanwant Singh: It is an international project primarily designed to study the inflow and outflow of pollution from continents outside of North America - what is coming in, what is going out, and what is happening to all this pollution as it is transported very long distances.
NTB: What types of instruments are used?
Singh: We have a number of aircraft in this project, including a DC-8 that can cover the entire troposphere, and it has some 20 instruments designed to measure pollutants in the atmosphere, both gases and aerosols. In addition, we have dozens of other instruments making measurements at the heart of the atmosphere. It's not enough to say, "We're polluting the atmosphere." We have to understand how the atmosphere works and how the pollution will behave.
NTB: How is all this information coordinated and used?
Singh: The integrating mechanism is a computer model - several of them - and all the data from these platforms gets fed into that model. They require a lot of emissions data from satellites and aircraft. Once we understand these observations, we project some of these things into the future to see how it serious it may be 10 or 20 years from now.
This is an evolving subject, and also technologically evolving. We are making measurements at an incredible sensitivity - things that weren't even possible a few years ago.
NTB: How can this project help the world pollution problem?
Singh: I think to provide solutions, the first thing to do is understand the problems. We need to see how pollution moves on very long scales. What happens to it along the way? And what does it mean to our air quality her in North America? We need to know if it turns out we are importing a lot of pollution from other places, and how to deal with that. We can do all we want, and it may not be good enough. The problems right now may not be that serious, but they may become serious down the line. I think our main contribution is to understand the system, to see where the problems are, and what we need to do to forecast if there are going to be problems in the future. If these things become serious, and they might, then we would need international strategies where we have some control not only in our own country, but also in other places. It's a big atmosphere out there.