TEMPO: Monitoring North America’s Pollution from Space


The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) mission is a collaboration between NASA and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. This project aims to provide the most extensive view of pollution and its effects across North America ever completed. Combined with the global constellation of air quality monitoring satellites, TEMPO track pollution more effectively than ever before.

The mission is set to launch in early 2022 and will monitor atmospheric pollution from Mexico City, Puerto Rica, Cuba and the Bahamas, to the Canadian oil sands in Alberta, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. TEMPO will be placed in the geostationary orbit that allows it to remain above the same spot of land throughout its operation. TEMPO will provide hourly updates of atmospheric pollution during the day at a resolution of 10 square kilometres.

The TEMPO instrument will monitor the quantities of lower tropospheric ozone, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide as the primary pollutant gases, but will also measure sulphur dioxide, glyoxal, water vapour, halogen oxides, aerosols, clouds, ultraviolet-B radiation, and foliage properties. This is achieved by detecting reflected sunlight across the ultraviolet / visible / near-infrared spectra.

The mission aims to provide answers to provide insights into how climate change affects air quality on a continental scale, how intercontinental transport affects air quality, how events such as wildfires, dust storms and volcanic eruptions affect air quality as well as to enable a better understanding of the temporal and spatial variations of emissions and their impact upon air quality and the climate.

Two other pollution-monitoring satellites will be launched in a similar timeframe as TEMPO - European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel-4 (launching in 2023) and South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS) (launching in 2020). The three instruments together will form a global GEO constellation for air quality monitoring including a focus on intercontinental pollution transport across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

More details about the TEMPO mission can be found here.