Earth System Science Center and Department of Atmospheric Science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Huang rides UAH-to-TEMPO pipeline

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.  When Guanyu Huang arrived in Boston, he became the third atmospheric science doctoral graduate to ride what might now be considered a “pipeline” between UAH and NASA’s TEMPO satellite program.

Huang will join UAH alumnus Xiong Liu, TEMPO’s deputy principal investigator, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Boston. Alumnus Jun Wang is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska and a member of the TEMPO science team.

“They gave me a huge list of projects I’m going to do,” said Huang, who is in Huntsville preparing his dissertation for submission as a journal article. “But the first thing they want me to look at is the retrieval of trace gases, everything that’s not nitrogen or oxygen.”

TEMPO is the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution satellite, which is scheduled for delivery to NASA in 2017. Launched into a geostationary orbit, the instruments aboard TEMPO will provide hourly observations of air pollutants across North America, giving unprecedented detailed information about how air pollutants originate, move and mix.

“The magic is in the hourly observations,” said Mike Newchurch, Huang and Liu’s Ph.D. advisor and director of UAH’s Regional Atmospheric Profiling Center for Discovery. “An observation once a day is simply not enough.”

Huang arrived in Huntsville six years ago from Wuhan in central China with an interest in air pollution and finding ways to reduce it.

“Air pollution is a big issue in China,” he explained. “It’s actually very bad. People in China are suffering. So the big issue of how to reduce air pollution levels is what I wanted to do when I got here.”

When he started his research, Huang found that air pollution problems in China are identical to pollution issues in many places around the globe, “so I had to expand to a global view of how to help people with these issues.”

His doctoral research focused on ozone pollution in the southeastern U.S., where nature (in the form of lightning and forests) creates atmospheric chemicals needed to generate a natural background level of ozone pollution even before people start messing with things.

“Here we have a very strong natural source of ozone,” Huang said. “Actually, air pollutants are strongly based on local features, such as the local topography and pollution sources. So we can’t say, let’s force every county or state to have the same (air pollution) regulations. Some things that might work on the west coast won’t work at all in Alabama.”

One of Huang’s first projects in Boston will be figuring out the best way to use TEMPO’s instruments to track ozone pollution near the surface. That is complicated by the 90 percent of atmospheric ozone that hangs around in the stratosphere, where it is essential for protecting life in the lower atmosphere from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation.

TEMPO will have to look through that 90 percent of ozone to track changes in ozone pollution in the other 10 percent closest to the ground, similar to trying to look through the rain from a thunderstorm to see if it is sprinkling on the other side.

While he still plans to return to China to battle air pollution there, Huang isn’t rushing. “I feel like I still have a lot of things to learn, but I will definitely do that in the future.”

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