This map was created with data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and shows the vertical column density of NOover western North America. The footprint of the oil sands extraction operations was created from mining permit data by Global Forest Watch Canada. The NO levels over the oil sands operations are comparable to those found over a medium-sized city.
By Tyler Irving
Posted April 2012
An international team of researchers led by Environment Canada has published the first satellite-based study of air quality over Alberta’s oil sands operation. It shows that levels of certain key gases are low compared to large cities, but that like oil sands development itself, they are increasing at a substantial rate.
Chris McLinden, an expert in satellite remote sensing at Environment Canada, led an international team which studied data from various atmospheric monitoring satellites, such as the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). These satellites are equipped with absorption spectrometers which can measure the levels of air pollutants like NO15 molecules per square centimetre, while that for SO was 1.0 x 1016 molecules per square centimetre. McLinden says that the NO levels are comparable to what one would find in a medium-sized city. “In another one of our studies we looked at some coal-burning power plants. The NO and SO levels we see over the oil sands regions are about the same as what we would see over a single large power plant,” says McLinden.and SO by analysing the wavelengths of light reflected from the earth’s surface. Over the oil sands mining region, an area about 30 kilometres by 50 kilometres, the maximum level of NO was 2.8 x 10
Given that NOand SO are common byproducts of hydrocarbon combustion, it’s not unexpected to find them near sites of industrial activity. Still, the study shows that in the period from 2005–2010, emissions of these two species increased by about 10 per cent a year. “Certainly we need to keep monitoring air quality, both from space and through other methods,” says McLinden. Satellite monitoring will be part of the new oil sands monitoring plan currently being implemented jointly by the Alberta and federal governments. The research is published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Photo credit: NASA/Environment Canada
Write to the editor at email@example.com