Satellite data reveals bonds between emissions, pollution and economy

January 26, 2021

Burning fossil fuels has long powered world economies while contributing to air pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases. A new analysis of nearly two decades of satellite data shows that economic development, fossil-fuel combustion and air quality are closely linked on the continental and national scales, but can be decoupled at the national level, according to Penn State scientists.

"We know air pollution and economic development are linked, but we want to know how tightly and whether our actions can change this," said Ruixue Lei, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. "We found they are not inherently bonded and can be decoupled under favorable policies."

While previous research has explored the connections between air pollution, fossil-fuel emissions and economic growth, the study is the first to examine all three jointly to determine their long-term, global relationships, the scientists said.

"The significance of this study is that data from satellites was used for the first time to prove that we actually do not need to sacrifice our environment while at the same time having a growth economy," said Sha Feng, assistant research professor of meteorology and atmospheric science. "This relationship can be detangled, but countries may need infrastructure or policy support to make it happen."

The team analyzed 18 years of satellite data measuring the amounts of anthropogenic aerosols in the atmosphere and fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emission estimates from the Open-Data Inventory for Anthropogenic Carbon product to determine anthropogenic emissions on continental and national scales. They then compared those findings to gross domestic product data for individual countries.

Their data showed the fastest growing nations suffer the most severe pollution while countries like the United States were able to grow their economies while slowing emissions, the scientists said. The team developed a filter that allowed them to focus on cities and other areas where emissions result from human activities.

"We found the linkage between fossil-fuel combustion and air quality is not how much you emitted, it is how fast the annual increase of the combustion was," Lei said. "Maybe at this stage all countries cannot unbound these factors, but we still see good examples that give us hope."

There are different types of pollutants associated with the burning of fossil fuels, and the satellite data also indicated that these varied widely by country, the scientists said.

The results, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, indicate that certain types of pollutants may be more associated with one economic system than another, and that those may change as a nation goes through phases of development, the scientists said.

"This paper is a first step to look at fossil-fuel emissions using satellite data at a national scale and to provide information for policy makers who face difficult challenges in balancing economic growth and reducing fossil-fuel emissions," Feng said.
-end-
To cite this article: Ruixue Lei et al 2021 Environ. Res. Lett.16 014006

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abc9e1/pdf

Thomas Lauvaux, a research scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, also contributed to this work.

NASA provided funding for this research.

Penn State

Related Air Pollution Articles from Brightsurf:

How air pollution affects homeless populations
When air quality worsens, either from the smoke and ozone of summer or the inversion of winter, most of us stay indoors.

Exploring the neurological impact of air pollution
Air pollution has become a fact of modern life, with a majority of the global population facing chronic exposure.

Spotting air pollution with satellites, better than ever before
Researchers from Duke University have devised a method for estimating the air quality over a small patch of land using nothing but satellite imagery and weather conditions.

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is associated with growth delays
A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has found an association between exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and delays in physical growth in the early years after birth.

Nearly half of US breathing unhealthy air; record-breaking air pollution in nine cities
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern.

Air pollution linked to dementia and cardiovascular disease
People continuously exposed to air pollution are at increased risk of dementia, especially if they also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, according to a study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

New framework will help decide which trees are best in the fight against air pollution
A study from the University of Surrey has provided a comprehensive guide on which tree species are best for combating air pollution that originates from our roads -- along with suggestions for how to plant these green barriers to get the best results.

Air pollution is one of the world's most dangerous health risks
Researchers calculate that the effects of air pollution shorten the lives of people around the world by an average of almost three years.

The world faces an air pollution 'pandemic'
Air pollution is responsible for shortening people's lives worldwide on a scale far greater than wars and other forms of violence, parasitic and insect-born diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and smoking, according to a study published in Cardiovascular Research.

Air pollution in childhood linked to schizophrenia
Children who grow up in areas with heavy air pollution have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

Read More: Air Pollution News and Air Pollution Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.