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Sentinel-5P brings air pollution into focus

(1 December 2017 - ESA) Launched on 13 October, the Sentinel-5P satellite has delivered its first images of air pollution. Even though the satellite is still being prepared for service, these first results have been hailed as exceptional and show how this latest Copernicus satellite is set to take the task of monitoring air quality into a new era.

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One of the first images from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission shows nitrogen dioxide over Europe on 22 November 2017. It shows high emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy and over western Germany. Nitrogen dioxide pollutes the air mainly as a result of industrial fossil fuel combustion and road traffic. Capturing a large part of Europe, this image also demonstrates Tropomi’s swath width of 2600 km. (contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by KNMI/ESA)

This new mission promises to image air pollutants in more detail than ever before. And, while these first results demonstrate the sophistication of the satellite’s instrument, they certainly bring the issue of air pollution sharply into focus.

One of these first images shows nitrogen dioxide over Europe. Caused largely by traffic and the combustion of fossil fuel in industrial processes, the high concentrations of this air pollutant can be seen over parts of the Netherlands, the Ruhr area in western Germany, the Po Valley in Italy and over parts of Spain.

Some of the first data have been used to create a global map of carbon monoxide.

Sentinel-5P also reveals high levels of pollution from power plants in India.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said, “Sentinel-5P is the sixth satellite for the EC Copernicus environmental monitoring programme but the first dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere.

“These first images offer a tantalising glimpse of what’s in store and are not only an important milestone for the Sentinel-5P mission, but also an important milestone for Europe.

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The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite imaged sulphur dioxide from the Mount Agung volcanic eruption on Bali, Indonesia, on 27 November 2017. As well as detecting different air pollutants, the mission also measures aerosols, as this image shows. (contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA/DLR)

“Data such as we see here will soon underpin the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, and will be used to issue forecasts, and will ultimately be valuable for helping to put appropriate mitigation policies in place.”

Sentinel-5P carries the most advanced sensor of its type to date: Tropomi. This state-of-the-art instrument can map pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols, all of which affect the air we breathe and our climate.

After the satellite was launched, Tropomi went through a planned decontamination process. The door that kept it sealed during this time was opened recently, allowing light to enter and the first images to be taken.

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One of the first images from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission shows how ozone is distributed around the world. While ozone in the stratosphere is a good thing, protecting us from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, lower down in the atmosphere it is a harmful pollutant. Ground level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. (contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by DLR/ESA)

These first results were revealed at the DLR German Aerospace Center, where Sentinel-5P’s data are processed.

As well as offering unprecedented detail, the mission has a swath width of 2600 km, which allows the whole planet to be mapped every 24 hours.

The mission has also been able to capture ash spewing from the Mount Agung volcano on Bali, Indonesia.

Stefan Dech, Director of DLR’s Earth Observation Center, said, “These first images are astonishing, especially given the satellite is still in the early stages of being commissioned for operations.

“The satellite’s Tropomi instrument promised to offer images of pollutants in higher resolution than ever before, and it’s certainly living up to its promise.”