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MOPITT: Measuring pollution changes

What you need to know

Carbon monoxide is toxic. It is produced by incomplete combustion such as forest fires and inefficient manufacturing processes. Scientists have known since the 1970s that levels have been steadily rising, but global causes and effects could not be verified. Now, a Canadian space instrument named MOPITT (for “measurement of pollution in the troposphere”) is producing high-resolution 3-D maps that measure carbon monoxide levels around the globe. These maps, updated every four days, help distinguish between natural and manmade sources of pollution while providing the data needed to evaluate the need to strengthen anti-pollution measures.

MOPITT delivers results: trial by fire

Launched in December 1999 on the Terra satellite as part of NASA’s Earth Observing System, the Canadian instrument MOPITT has proven its worth, literally, in a trial by fire. During 2003, when a massive number of fires were burning in Western Canada, MOPITT was able to quantify the amount of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere with the scale of the burning. Its 3-D maps have also helped track how pollution from industrial centres in North America, Europe and, increasingly, China, drifts around the world.

By combining MOPITT data with local ground observations and measurements from balloons and aircraft, scientists are identifying pollution increases or decreases in specific regions. It is also helping us understand how weather and seasons affect carbon monoxide levels.

Canadian innovation that just doesn't quit

Designed for a life of five years, the MOPITT mission has been extended because of the excellent results achieved and the continuing health of the instrument. The extensive international science team is led by Dr. James Drummond of the University of Toronto and the instrument was manufactured by COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario.