Remote sensing of particulate pollution from space: have we reached the promised land?

J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2009 Jun;59(6):645-75; discussion 642-4.


The recent literature on satellite remote sensing of air quality is reviewed. 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the first satellite atmospheric observations. For the first 40 of those years, atmospheric composition measurements, meteorology, and atmospheric structure and dynamics dominated the missions launched. Since 1995, 42 instruments relevant to air quality measurements have been put into orbit. Trace gases such as ozone, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, water, oxygen/tetraoxygen, bromine oxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, glyoxal, chlorine dioxide, chlorine monoxide, and nitrate radical have been measured in the stratosphere and troposphere in column measurements. Aerosol optical depth (AOD) is a focus of this review and a significant body of literature exists that shows that ground-level fine particulate matter (PM2.5) can be estimated from columnar AOD. Precision of the measurement of AOD is +/-20% and the prediction of PM2.5 from AOD is order +/-30% in the most careful studies. The air quality needs that can use such predictions are examined. Satellite measurements are important to event detection, transport and model prediction, and emission estimation. It is suggested that ground-based measurements, models, and satellite measurements should be viewed as a system, each component of which is necessary to better understand air quality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Air Pollution
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Optical Phenomena
  • Particulate Matter / chemistry*
  • Spacecraft*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter