Look! Up in the sky! NASA, NOAA scientists in flying lab are checking air quality

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WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Scientists are aboard a DC-8 that has been converted into a flying lab, on a mission to track pollution and air quality.

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The research being done by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a first of its kind.

“we’re measuring atmospheric air pollution, and all the different ways that we can measure it all at the same time,” Dr. Sarah Kapnick, NOAA chief scientist, told News Center 7′s Kayla McDermott on Thursday.

Scientists are using a satellite called Tempo to monitor air quality in North America.

“it’s really important to have that satellite information that gives us these continuous records, Kapnick said. “With the plane, going up and down into the atmosphere, capturing everything in the atmosphere allows us to know everything that’s in the atmosphere.”

There is a lab inside the plane full of instruments dedicated to tracking pollutants.

The flying lab presents an exciting opportunity, said Emily Lill, of the ammonia measurement team.

“Not many people get to say that they work in a flying laboratory,” she said. “So it’s kind of a once in a lifetime experience.”

Lill said her team has been using a spectrometer to measure ammonia, an unregulated fluid that can easily turn into particles, which can harm humans.

The flying lab monitors gases as well.

Nell Schaffer, a NOAA associate scientist, said researchers could see higher levels of greenhouse gases as they flew over Chicago this week.

The air the scientists are finding is at the top of the atmosphere, Dr. Kapnick said.

“And so there’s this layer of that wildfire smoke and then you get down to the bottom that’s where you then have the pollution and that’s coming from cars from diesel trucks from everything else,” she said.

Next stop for the flying lab and its data collection mission: Toronto, then to locations above other North American cities.