Atmospheric pollution & land emissions

We aim to improve air quality forecasting and examine the impact pollutants have on climate.

NCEO scientists are studying air pollution and how emissions from the land surface interact with atmospheric circulation and chemistry to help understand their effect on climate  and to improve air quality forecasts for the UK.

We have created new data products and analysis tools for monitoring atmospheric pollution and emissions. For example, the Fire Radiative Power dataset identifies where biomass burning is taking place around the planet. This feeds into air-quality forecasting operations run as part of the Copernicus Atmosphere Service, and also helps inform fire response operations. NCEO researchers developed the first operational fire product for the Sentinel-3 mission.


Our research priorities are:

  • To use new data sources to characterise pollutant emissions, pollution transport and chemistry using new data, for example from Sentinel-5P;
  • To generate new EO data that allow testing and improving climate-chemistry, chemistry-transport and land surface models;
  • To monitor and understand the long-term evolution of ozone-destroying chemicals in the stratosphere, in support of the Montreal Protocol;
  • To contribute to international scientific efforts to accurately measure non-CO2 greenhouse gas concentrations from space that assist efforts to cut emissions under the UNFCCC.


Our current work includes: 

  • Taking an integrated approach to satellite observations to map trace gases and aerosols in the troposphere and lower stratosphere;
  • Examining the global distribution and processes that determine concentrations of tropospheric ozone – an important greenhouse gas and toxic pollutant when it is near the ground – as well as other atmospheric trace gases. This has been identified as a high-priority research area by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Contributing to the World Meteorological Organization’s assessments of ozone depletion in the stratosphere, using satellite and ground-based observations and global modelling of atmospheric circulation. Our recent analyses confirm that the ozone layer is in much better shape than it would have been without the UN treaty.
  • Using satellite observations to directly examine information on surface emissions and atmospheric pollutants to test and improve models. The long-term behaviour of surface emissions and lifetimes of the pollutants will determine the sensitivity of atmospheric chemistry to climate and vice versa.
  • Working with the UK Met Office using measurements of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide to examine how large-scale weather systems affect air quality. This work at NCEO has led to improvements in the Met Office model used to forecast daily air quality in the UK.
  • Exploiting data from geostationary satellites to develop the Fire Radiative Power datasets, from which fires burning across whole continents can be mapped and their emissions to the atmosphere quantified in almost real-time.