Sentinel-5P satellite, a new European Satellite, launched last October to track air quality worldwide, reported something very distinctive about the quality of air over the Indian sub-continent and the surrounding countries in South Asia. 

The elevated concentrations are of the presence of formaldehyde, the colorless gas, something that is released by vegetation naturally but also is responsible for various pollution activities. In a way, it is a sort of information to the authorities to get the atmosphere cleaned up. 

Isabelle De Smedt, of the BIRA – IASB – Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy said that as compared to significant participants like oxygen and nitrogen, formaldehyde signals are smaller: in every one billion air molecules there would be just a few CH2O, but it can be significantly more polluting. The column of formaldehyde is composed of various sorts of volatile organic compounds, and its source can be vegetation (a natural origin) and can be from fires and pollution also. 

She also mentioned that the formation of formaldehyde depends on region, but 50 to 80% is from some biogenic sources. And above it, there is pollutions and fire also. The light can be from burning of coal or wildfires, but particularly in India, there are a lot of agricultural fires. In India considerable amount of wood is burned at homes for cooking and heating. 

It is when volatile compounds that are organic comes together with NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide) from the burning of fossil fuels and sunlight, reactions create ground-level ozone, which is a severe respiratory irritant and can lead to significant health hazards.  

Produced and launched by the European Space Agency for European Union’s Copernicus Earth Monitoring Programme – Sentinel-5P’s instrument Tropomi, is capable of detecting any presence of trace gasses in the atmosphere in addition to formaldehyde, along with nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone, carbon monoxide (CO), methane and aerosols. All of these effects the air quality that we breathe and thereby the human health. Some of them have their roles in climate change. 

Dr. De Smedt mentioned that Tropomi is much more capable than its predecessor Omni, a spectrometer system, which is still flying on an American space agency satellite. She further said that they already have reasonably good data, but many more days of observations were still needed, and at sometimes even for years to get high-quality results. The new data of India is of four months, and Tropomi can do with one month’s data what Omni did in six months.