Case study: Near real-time satellite data could help alleviate the air pollution impact from wildfires
27 Oct 2021



Climate change is making wildfires more prevalent, and near real-time satellite data monitoring shows these are having a knock on effect on air quality around the world.




​The Challenge:

Climate change, through warmer temperatures and changing rainfall patterns is leading to wildfires becoming more common and burning more intensely from Siberia to Australia. This has a huge and immediate impact for humans and wildlife in the areas affected. Wildfires can also cause public health concerns over much wider geographical areas.

The Solution:

During the 2019/2020 wildfires in eastern Australia, scientists at RAL Space and Leeds University in the UK were keeping a close eye on near-real time satellite observations for the region. As well as the visible plumes of smoke, the team tracked trace gases of carbon monoxide, methane and methanol. These and other organic species lead to formation of ozone and aerosols which affect air quality and health. The team were able to show the carbon monoxide plumes travelled all the way around the southern hemisphere, over to South America and back across the Southern Ocean to the west coast of Australia.

The Outcome:

While such extreme fires are rare, they are becoming more common with climate change. The near-real time system developed by RAL Space can track the worldwide occurrence of pollutant plumes and their dispersion to locations far distant from their sources which could help inform air quality assessments and planning as well as scientific research.

Dr Brian Kerridge, Remote Sensing Group Leader at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space said:
“Our near-real system produces satellite data on a suite of geophysical variables of relevance to climate and air quality which include water vapour, ozone and ammonia as well as carbon monoxide, methane and methanol.”​


Further background:

Research was funded by the National Centre for Earth Observation and was carried out in partnership between RAL Space with the University of Leeds.

Data produced by the near-real time processing system can be visualised using the RAL Space Visulisation Tool.

The data is also available on JASMIN.