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Press Release  
Release Date: Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:22 PM
Description: HU-Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation.pdf  
Media Contact:
Ron Harris
Director of Communications
Beltsville Center Key Component in NASA Project to Measure D.C., Baltimore Air Quality

WASHINGTON – Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  Well, it’s definitely not Superman.

It is in fact a plane, and its part of an important, month-long collaboration between the Howard University Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation (BCCSO), NASA and five other institutions to measure the air quality in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

It’s called Discover-AQ, and throughout July, NASA has been sending up two aircraft, one in very low-level flights, around Washington and Baltimore to measure the air quality from the air down towards the ground.  That’s the one that has commuters in a tizzy.

NASA’S P3B, a 117-foot turboprop, is sampling an area from Beltsville north, following major roadways including I-95. At several points, the plane flies low-altitude spirals over ground stations, diving from 15,000 feet to 1,000 feet. 

Howard’s Beltsville facility is the first point on its flight.   BCCSO, a NASA University Research Center, is one of the key sites charged with measuring the air quality from the ground up during the NASA flights. 

Aside from the center’s own extensive air quality measuring and weather monitoring equipment, it is also the site of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s key air quality measuring facilities.  The department is also working with NASA during Discovery-AQ.

Everette Joseph, director of the Beltsville center and an associate profesor in Howard’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said the overall goal of the project is to improve the nation’s ability to monitor, study and forecast the quality of the air we breathe.

“Satellites orbiting the earth can very quickly provide information on air quality across the globe, especially over major urban centers,” Joseph said.  “However, they have many limitations.  For example, their ability to distinguish air pollutants near the surface and aloft in the atmosphere is limited.

“This study, among other things, will allow NASA to improve the observation capabilities of the next generation of satellites that will come online in the next 10

Just before each fly-over by NASA planes, graduate students at BCCSO release weather balloons with air quality monitoring equipment to better correlate ground measurements of air quality with the aircraft’s findings.  The students and scientists at the center are also monitoring other equipment during those flights.

“This is an extremely important project for Howard scientifically, but also because it adds to our research reputation in atmospheric science,” Joseph said.  ““It is also an opportunity for us to demonstrate to the scientific community, government and industry our strength and capabilities as an increasingly important national resource and center of excellence.

“We have an interdisciplinary team of students from engineering, physics, atmospheric science and chemistry gaining hands-on experience with the latest technology and methods.

“Howard students and scientists will be producing research papers and dissertation theses with this data over the next several years. “

To view television news stories about the Beltsville/NASA effort, visit the following links.

Howard graduate students do a last-minute check of air monitoring equipment attached to another balloon before it is released into the atmosphere.

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