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Animation Clips

During DISCOVER-AQ, the King Air flies at high altitudes, emulating the measurements we get from satellites, and the P3-B flies below it. The P3-B flies spiral patterns over specific ground sites: areas where trying to understand air quality is most important.
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Ground Sites & Tethered Balloons:
These sites are anchor points for the mission. The measurements from ground sites and tethered balloons allow us to understand the lower level of the atmosphere closest to the ground.
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Radiosonde Balloons:
We use weather balloons to measure ozone, water vapor, and temperature.
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Interviews & Videos

Press Releases

RELEASE: 14-184
Major Air Pollution Studies to Converge over Denver

P3B in the Colorado DISCOVER-AQ Campaign

Two NASA aircraft are participating in field campaigns beginning this month in Colorado that will probe the factors leading to unhealthy air quality conditions and improve the ability to diagnose air quality conditions from space.

The NASA aircraft will be joined by a research aircraft from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for flights July 16 to Aug. 16 from the Research Aviation Facility maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

The main study area extends along the Northern Front Range from the Denver metropolitan area in the south to Fort Collins in the north extending eastward from the mountains as far as Greeley. This area contains a diverse mixture of air pollution sources that include transportation, power generation, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, natural vegetation and episodic wildfires.

High ozone levels

The region being studied often experiences ozone levels in summer that exceed national health standards. Ground-level ozone is chemically produced from the combination of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbon emissions in sunlight.

NASA’s contribution to the effort is called DISCOVER-AQ, which stands for Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality. The Colorado study is the final stop in a series of four field studies by the DISCOVER-AQ team focused on areas across the United States that routinely experience poor air quality. Previous flights focused on the Baltimore-Washington area (2011), California’s San Joaquin Valley (2013), and Houston (2013).

In each study location, DISCOVER-AQ joined with state and local air quality agencies and local universities to implement a comprehensive observing strategy to obtain a three-dimensional view of air pollution over the area. Flights are being closely coordinated with air quality observations on the ground at sites maintained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These detailed observations of air pollution from the surface up into the atmosphere will help improve the capability of future satellites to monitor air quality around the world.

“Satellites looking down through the atmosphere have a difficult time distinguishing between pollution at the surface and aloft,” said DISCOVER-AQ Jim Crawford from NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “The ‘vertically resolved’ observations gathered by the two NASA planes flying one above the other and above the ground sites offer the details needed to better understand how to connect these two views.”

Air sampling

NASA’s King Air from Langley will fly at 27,000 feet, looking downward with remote sensors to measure the amount of gaseous and particulate pollution below the aircraft. The NASA P-3B from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, will sample the vertical distribution of gaseous and particulate pollution by profiling from 1,000 and 15,000 feet above the surface over selected monitoring sites on the ground.

Additional instruments at these ground sites will measure pollution more completely than is typically feasible and to provide continuous monitoring of air quality conditions aloft using remote sensors, balloons, and towers at some locations.

For the Colorado flights, the DISCOVER-AQ mission is collaborating with a second study, the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment or FRAPPE. Jointly sponsored by the state of Colorado and NSF, FRAPPE will include the NCAR/NSF C-130 research aircraft, as well as additional activities on the ground.

While the DISCOVER-AQ aircraft will be dedicated to sampling over ground sites, FRAPPE will have much more freedom to direct the C-130 to different locations as conditions warrant. This includes flying upwind of the Front Range area to distinguish between local pollutants and those carried in from outside the state, and flying downwind to assess chemical evolution and impacts of pollutants leaving the region.

Front Range pollution

Another priority will be to target specific pollution sources in the Front Range area, ranging from the urban emissions in the Denver metropolitan area to the agricultural emissions centered in the Greeley area and the broad region of oil and gas extraction activity extending to the northeast of Denver.

The combined studies will produce an unprecedented level of detail for understanding air quality over a metropolitan area.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Health Alert Network with instruments to measure nitrogen dioxide, an important ozone precursor not currently observed at many locations along the Front Range. EPA and others also are evaluating small air quality sensors distributed throughout the network with the potential for widespread use by individuals to monitor personal air quality exposure.

The data gathered this summer and by previous DISCOVER-AQ flights will be used to assess and improve air quality models, design more effective observing strategies for ground networks, and inform the design of planned satellite observations from geostationary orbit. NASA is developing plans for the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) mission that will provide hourly air quality observations over North America from an orbit more than 20,000 miles from Earth.

“What we learn from these flights will help us to better interpret satellite remote sensing of air quality from geostationary orbit in the future,” said Crawford. “It also will help us to define the best combination of instruments on the ground to connect air quality monitoring networks with satellite information.”

Michael Finneran, NASA Langley Research Center


07.15.2014: NREL Site Tethered Balloon Launch

NREL Site Tethered Balloon Launch

Click the image above for full-size view.
Researchers and students from Millersville University prepare to launch the tethered balloon at the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) site in Golden, CO
one of the DISCOVER-AQ ground sites in the Colorado front range. The balloon will carry instruments to measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide,
particulate pollution, and meteorological variables from the surface to as high as 1600 feet to overlap with P-3B observations.
Spiral profiles by the P-3B over this site will extend from 1,000 to 12,000 feet above the surface.

Image Credit: Eric Vance, EPA

07.14.2014: NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory Site

NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory Site

Click the image above for full-size view.
Russell Long from the EPA installs a small air quality sensor on the tower at the NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory site in Erie, CO. Small sensors have been placed at different altitudes on the tower and on the ground at other sites across the Front Range to compare with DISCOVER-AQ observations of ozone and nitrogen dioxide.


You can now get your very own DISCOVER-AQ shirt, jacket, tote, hat, etc. through Lands’ End Business Outfitters.

We sent them our logo and they have created a DISCOVER-AQ shop for us.
You place the order and pay and your item is shipped directly to you.

+ Visit their site to place your order:

  • Select the item you want and place the logos.
  • To match the yellow shirts we already have (not required):
    COLOR: Jonquil

Meatball Sleeve: SLEEVE RIGHT

  • The “Meatball” is the round NASA logo.
    There is another one, “Medium meatball” which is slightly larger. This may be used on a tote.
  • Note the thread color of the logo (light blue). The thread color cannot be changed.
    Keep this in mind when deciding on your shirt/item color.
  • For questions regarding fit, color, fabric, etc., call Lands’ End customer service at 800-760-4638.