EU regulations ignore improved atmospheric sensing

ESA’s latest satellite mission, Sentinel-5P, promises unprecedented air quality measurements. But regulation enforcing agencies are not allowed to use satellite data. “This has to change quickly.”

Expectations are high. The instrument aboard the satellite Sentinel-5P, Tropomi, which stands for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument, will be able to study air quality with a seven by seven kilometre resolution thus locating the sources of pollution. It is scheduled for launch in June 2017.

Dr. Pieternel Levelt is the scientific initiator of Tropomi. She is a professor in the atmospheric remote sensing group (CEG) and leader of the R&D Satellite Observations Department at KNMI. Levelt expects satellite data will be used by agencies in future; currently this is not possible due to European regulations. As it stands now, agencies that monitor air quality and give out permits for industrial activities are obliged to use data from ground stations. "I expect that this will change in the future, due to the setup of the EU Copernicus system," she said during the symposium Urban Air Quality, on February 17, 2017 at TU Delft.

Tropomi will make daily global observations of O3, NO2, SO2, CO and CH4. Dutch Space built two predecessors of Tropomi: Sciamachy (2002) and OMI (2004). The most significant advancement will be Tropomi's data density. Tropomi has a resolution that is four times higher than its predecessors.

Sentinel-5P and Tropomi are not alone. They are part of Copernicus, the world's largest single Earth observation program.