Environment Ministry, NASA to check dust

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Environment Ministry, NASA to check dust

Korea’s Ministry of Environment announced Sunday it will again cooperate with NASA, this time with the help of satellite technology, to pinpoint the international and domestic factors behind local air pollution.

“If the first study took information from aircraft, the second study will take data from satellite images,” said Chang Yoon-seok, president of the Environment Ministry’s think tank, the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER). “If the movement of fine dust particles [from China to Korea] is confirmed with this study, it will provide some answers as to the cause of the fine dust pollution.”

NIER conducted a joint study with NASA from May to June 2016 which found that 52 percent of the air pollutants in Korea were found to have been produced locally, while 48 percent were attributed to external factors - with 34 percent coming from China.

The study took surface and airborne measurements via three aircraft, 16 ground sites and two ships.

According to NIER, the second joint study will likely launch around 2021 after a set of satellite instruments are launched jointly by Korea, the United States and Europe.

“This has led to an international effort to launch a constellation of satellite instruments focused on air quality over Asia, North America and Europe,” NASA says in its website. “These instruments will provide hourly observations of those regions throughout the day … The funded geostationary atmospheric chemistry instruments expected to launch … include GEMS by the Republic of Korea, TEMPO by the U.S., & Sentinel-4 by Europe.”

According to NIER, GEMS will be able to capture the movement of fine dust particles across the whole of East Asia, including China and the Korean Peninsula. NIER said it is also developing an algorithm that will use satellite images to determine fine dust concentration in different atmospheric levels. “The satellite to be launched is special because it can provide hourly observations, which we do not have right now,” said Kim Sang-kyun, head of the satellite department of NIER. “We will have our hands on more precise data regarding international and domestic fine dust particles.”

Amid the worsening fine dust situation in Korea, the South Korean government is launching a national fine dust agency headed by Ban Ki-moon, the former secretary general of the UN. Ban was offered the position by the presidential chief of staff, Noh Young-min, on Saturday, and he accepted it.

BY CHON KWON-PIL, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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