NASA Partners with South African University to use Space Data for Air-Pollution Management

United States of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is partnering with epidemiologists and researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP) to work on research towards measuring and assessing air pollution and its association with respiratory diseases, using space data.


The research is also going to cover the relationship between air pollution, birth conditions and premature death. This is the first that NASA has partnered with epidemiologists and health organisations to use space-based data to study human health and improve lives, said the head of the environmental and occupational sciences division at UP’s school of health systems and public health, Professor Janine Wichmann.

As part of the global Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) project, with the satellite due to be launched by NASA in 2022, the project would assess the human health effects of fine particulate matter of a diameter of 2.5mm, known as PM2.5 and its chemical composition.

Wichmann, who is also the local principal investigator of epidemiology research for the MAIA project, said she would be investigating human health effects due to air pollution and climate change indicators.

“Particulate matter in the air includes many chemical species that might be toxic. The degree to which they contribute to human health effects, such as respiratory disease, also varies. This requires us to know which specific air pollutants, [a] combination of pollutants, sources of pollutants and characteristics of pollutants are most responsible for our ill-health, such as adverse birth conditions, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and premature death.”

The project is going to be carried out across several study sites around the world. Four of the are in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia.

According to NASA, the MAIA satellite will generate a comprehensive information on particle size distribution, shape and light scattering, as well as absorption for a set of globally distributed target areas.

“By understanding what’s in the air we breathe and just how toxic it could be, we can make decisions to establish global standards for our air quality and develop strategies to control air pollution with a targeted approach,” said Wichmann.


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