Resource Spotlight

Health and Air Quality

Six images of poor air quality in major world cities.
Air quality is a global issue as seen in these images of major cities around the world. Credit: National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to public health globally and accounts for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year. Exposure to fine particulate matter, designated PM2.5, reduced average global life expectancy by approximately one year in 2016.

NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program provides unrestricted access to data that can be used to assess air quality as well as the tools and applications for analyzing and working with these data. Along with measurements acquired from airborne and satellite missions, NASA collaborates with federal entities and international space organizations, including NOAA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the European Space Agency, to collect and distribute air quality data.

Air pollution affects children, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with pre-existing heart and lung disease to a greater degree, and illnesses linked to PM2.5 include stroke, heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. High levels of aerosols and other suspended particles are associated with impaired cognitive development in children and with mental health problems in adults. In addition, people living in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and communities may be more vulnerable to poor air quality because of factors including proximity to industrial sources of air pollution, higher rates of underlying health problems, poor nutrition, stress, and historical patterns of environmental injustice. Socioeconomic data in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) collection are available through NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC); additional socioeconomic resources are available in the Earthdata Environmental Justice at NASA Backgrounder.

(Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP].)

Data Pathfinders

ESDS Data Pathfinders provide direct links to commonly-used datasets across NASA's Earth science collections. The Health and Air Quality Data Pathfinder is an in-depth resource for NASA datasets, tools, applications, and other resources that can aid studies into air quality. Links to additional air quality data and resources are available in the Diseases and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: Sustainable Development Data Pathfinders.

NASA Worldview

The NASA Worldview imagery mapping and visualization application allows users to select numerous layers that can be used to assess air quality, many of which are available in near real-time (three hours or less after a satellite observation). The Worldview comparison feature enables changes in the environment to be tracked over time, such as changes in aerosol concentrations following a volcanic eruption or wildfire.

In the Worldview comparison image below, high concentrations of dust in the Gobi Desert in Central Asia appear as a grayish-brown area near the center of the left side true color image acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard the joint NASA/NOAA ;Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite. The impact of this dust is evident in the right side image, which is an overlay of the Aerosol Index (AI) layer from the Suomi NPP's Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) instrument. The red area in the center of the right-side OMPS image indicates heavy concentrations of aerosols that could reduce visibility or impact human health.

VIIRS true color, OMPS aerosol index comparison showing the impact of  dust in the Gobi desert.

Articles and Data User Profiles

Three side-by-side images of scientists working in air quality.
Recent Data User Profiles related to air quality include (from left to right): Abigail Nastan, Dr. Steven Massie, and Dr. Qing Liang. Credit: NASA EOSDIS.

Along with NASA Earth science data available through Earthdata Search and NASA's Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs), numerous Earthdata articles describe missions collecting air quality-related data, highlight new data, and show how these data can be used. Data User Profiles show how individual scientists and researchers are using EOSDIS data to monitor and track changes in air quality and how this research helps communities deal with these changes.

Recent Articles

Mapping Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Exploitation: Scientists map 97 million metric tons of methane emissions from the exploitation of oil, natural gas, and coal.

Data in Action: GES DISC data resources for research on the massive Tonga volcanic eruption: NASA's Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC) features numerous datasets that researchers can utilize to investigate the atmospheric effects of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai blast.

Data in Action: Signature of the Shamal: The Shamal wind blows in one direction, and desert dust shows when and where it blows.

Data in Action: Finding Dukono: The active Dukono volcano is on a remote Indonesian island, but its general location can be determined from space by its sulfur dioxide "signature."

Data in Action: MODIS Captures Indirect Impacts of COVID-19 on the Environment: Researchers from the Department of Mining Engineering at the National Institute of Technology in Rourkela, India, used daily 1 km Combined Terra and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Land Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) (MCD19A2) data from 2000 to 2020 to assess the impact of the pandemic-triggered lockdowns on the AOD level as an indicator of air pollution.

ATom: Cloud and Coarse Aerosol Measurements, 2016-2018: NASA's Oak Ridge National Laboratory DAAC (ORNL DAAC) recently released this new dataset that is part of the Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom).

Relevant Data User Profiles

  • Dr. Róisín Commane — Explores the effects of terrestrial pollution on the atmosphere’s chemical composition.
  • Dr. Emily Fischer — Studies the sources, fates, and impacts of pollutants in lower levels of Earth’s atmosphere using satellite observations, ground-based air airborne measurements, and chemical transport models.
  • Dr. Robert Holz — Develops algorithms and data products that enhance observations of aerosols and clouds.
  • Dr. Qing Liang — Uses a wide range of atmospheric datasets to monitor and simulate concentrations of trace gasses that impact ozone in the atmosphere.
  • Dr. Steven Massie — Uses remotely-sensed data to better understand the impacts of aerosols and improve how aerosols are detected by Earth observation satellites.
  • Abigail Nastan — Plays a key role in a research and development effort exploring the design of a future air quality observing system for the United States.
  • Lela Prashad — Connects satellite remote sensing data with ground-based monitors to build a more complete picture of urban environments and how people locally experience these environments.

Explore more Data User Profiles


NASA Earthdata Webinars span the Earth science disciplines and are designed to help users learn about NASA Earth observing data, services, and tools and show users how to work with these resources.

Data Recipes and Tutorials

Data recipes are step-by-step instructions for using and working with Earth science data, information, tools, and services. Tutorials cover many different data products across the Earth science disciplines and different data discovery and data access tools, including programming languages and related software.

Additional NASA Resources

Air quality and atmospheric composition are components of many airborne and field investigations. The web-based Catalog of Archived Suborbital Earth Science Investigations (CASEI) facilitates quick access to detailed information about NASA’s airborne and field investigations along with links to associated data products. CASEI was developed by NASA’s Airborne Data Management Group (ADMG). ADMG is part of NASA’s Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT), which is an ESDS Program component.

Applied sciences air quality home page
The NASA Applied Sciences Health & Air Quality program area provides policymakers with Earth observations to enhance decision-making about public health. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Applied Sciences Program works with partners around the world to use NASA's unique view from space to inform decision-making, enhance quality of life, and strengthen local economies. Air quality-related efforts can be found on the Applied Sciences Health & Air Quality program area webpage, while the Applied Sciences' Applied Remote Sensing Training (ARSET) Program provides training focusing on remote sensing applications for health and air quality. Another Applied Sciences-supported resource is the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST). HAQAST uses NASA satellite data to help solve real-world public health and air quality problems around the world. Headquartered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, its members are spread across the U.S., in government offices and public and private universities.

Air quality information also is available through the Global Learning and Observations to benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. GLOBE is an international science and education program that provides students and the public opportunities to meaningfully contribute to our understanding of the Earth system and the global environment. NASA is the lead agency for GLOBE, with the U.S. State Department, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation as partners. GLOBE resources related to air quality include:

Other NASA resources for air quality information are:

Last Updated
May 2, 2022