Air Quality in the Anthropocene Era

A Satellite Perspective

Pawan K. Bhartia
Senior Research Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2258th Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 16, 2009 at 8:15 PM

Pawan K. Bhartia


Chemistry Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen has coined the term “anthropocene” to put the modern industrial era in the geological context to highlight the fact that human-induced changes to the earth are in some cases as large as the changes that occurred in geological times. Though the changes in the terra firma and the biosphere are the most visible manifestations of these changes, the quality of our life-sustaining atmosphere is also changing rapidly. Air quality is affected not only by the “bad air” that we can smell or feel in our lungs but also by the rate of change in the composition of the “good air” that has made life on this planet possible. The composition of the good air has been changing too rapidly recently for the life to adapt to it. The most well known of these changes has been the rapid thinning of the ozone layer in the polar regions, popularly known as the Ozone Hole. This lecture will illustrate what constitutes good and bad air using images derived from modern satellite instruments. The author will discuss combining data from remote sensing and in-situ instruments with numerical models.

About the Author:

Pawan K. (PK) Bhartia is a Senior Staff Scientist in the Laboratory for Atmospheres at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He currently serves as the US Science Team Leader of the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). OMI is a Dutch-Finnish built instrument currently flying on NASA’s EOS Aura satellite.

He has written over 100 scientific papers on ultraviolet remote sensing of the Earth's atmosphere. He was a leading member of the Ozone Processing Team (OPT) that was responsible for producing ozone products from the SBUV and TOMS instrument on NASA's Nimbus-7 satellite that was launched in September, 1978. Shortly after the discovery by two British scientists that the ozone layer over a station in Antarctica was rapidly thinning, Dr. Bhartia presented the first scientific paper that showed that the phenomena, which subsequently came to be known as the “ozone hole,” covered almost the entire continent of Antarctica. He also pioneered the development of a technique to make precise estimates of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth's surface using satellite data.

His current research interest is in measuring atmospheric pollution from space that affects human health and global air quality. He and his colleagues are working on developing techniques to measure the constituents of the urban smog from space, and in tracking inter-continental transport of these pollutants.

He received his Ph.D. in Physics and MS in Computer Science degrees in 1977 from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Before joining NASA in 1991 he worked for various aerospace companies in both technical and managerial positions. He served as the Head of the Atmospheric Chemistry & Dynamics Branch at NASA GSFC from 1993-2006. He is the recipient of William Nordberg Medal and Exceptional Scientific Achievement award from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Outstanding Leadership Medal from NASA. The TOMS project that he has led since 1991 received the 2006 William T Pecora group award given jointly by NASA and USGS.

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