precisely in the 1-10 day timeframe, and improved load forecasts can save utilities money by reducing the swing volume they require.7
Flood Disaster Response (Australia and Pakistan)
NASA supported US disaster response efforts to Australia flooding earlier in 2011. NASA observations provided unique, daily observations of the flooding, which were used by several Australian agencies, including the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Dept. of Environment & Resource Management, and Geoscience Australia.8
The global coverage and technical capabilities of NASA Earth science satellites enabled NASA to perform flood mapping for Pakistan floods in late 2010. NASA investigators modified flood mapping algorithms to accommodate the extremely high sediment concentrations of those floods. NASA’s products were added to those provided to disaster responders, relief agencies, and aid providers, including the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, World Bank, World Food Programme, and US military.9
New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution
In many developing countries, the absence of surface-based air pollution sensors makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get even a rough estimate of the abundance of a subcategory of airborne particles that epidemiologists suspect contributes to millions of premature deaths each year. The problematic particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about a tenth the [diameter of a] human hair. These small particles can get past the body’s normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs.
To fill in these gaps in surface-based PM2.5 measurements, experts look toward satellites to provide a global perspective. Yet, satellite instruments have generally struggled to achieve accurate measurements of the particles in near-surface air. The problem: Most satellite instruments can’t distinguish particles close to the ground from those high in the atmosphere. In addition, clouds tend to obscure the view. And bright land surfaces, such as snow, desert sand, and those found in certain urban areas, can mar measurements.
However, the view got a bit clearer this summer with the publication of the first long-term global map of PM2.5 in a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Canadian researchers Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, created the map by blending total-column aerosol amount measurements from two NASA satellite instruments with information about the vertical distribution of aerosols from a computer model.10
Observing Recovery at Mt. St. Helens
NASA has helped document recovery of the Mt. St. Helen’s area [from] the volcanic eruption (1980) by showing how the distribution of vegetation has recovered over a 30 year period. In the three decades since the eruption, Mt. St. Helens has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to witness the intricate steps through which life reclaims a devastated landscape. The scale of the eruption and the beginning of reclamation in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone are documented in this series of images captured by NASA’s Landsat series of satellites between 1979 and 2010.11
NASA Demonstrates Tsunami Prediction System
A NASA-led research team has successfully demonstrated for the first time elements of a prototype tsunami prediction system that quickly and accurately assesses large earthquakes and estimates the size of resulting tsunamis.
10 “New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution,” published online by NASA on 09/22/2010; available at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/health-sapping.html.