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Environmental Policy

Spak and UI Researchers Develop Technique to "See" Through Clouds

Clouds in a blue sky from above

University of Iowa researchers Scott Spak, Pablo Saide, and Greg Carmichael have created a technique to help satellites "see" through the clouds and better estimate the concentration of pollutants, such as soot. The finding is important because clouds can block remote-sensing satellites' ability to detect and calculate the concentration of pollution nearer to the ground. This includes particles (commonly known as soot) that reduce air quality and affect weather and climate.

The results of the study are presented in "Improving aerosol distributions below clouds by assimilating satellite-retrieved cloud droplet number," an article in the July online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Spak was named to the NASA Air Quality Applied Science Team (AQAST) last summer.

Spak, a researcher in the PPC's Environmental Policy Program, adds that the new technique is expected to find immediate application across a wide range of activities. Examples include: air quality forecasting, numerical weather prediction, climate projections, oceanic and anthropogenic emissions estimation, and health effects studies.

"We describe a new approach that can help provide better information to support climate and air pollution policies by improving weather and air quality forecasting, climate projections, and health effects studies around the world," said Spak.

The research was funded by NSF and NASA.