The Olympic Games are in full force in Rio, with more than 10000 athletes travelling to the Brazilian city to try their best to earn Gold. Before the games started, the Olympics has been subject to a lot of criticism, namely the huge expense it has cost a country which struggles to house its poor and provide sanitation to millions of people, but NASA also found something else slightly worrying.

They used their MISR (Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer) on-board the Terra satellite, to measure the levels of particular matter in the atmosphere over Rio, as a means to estimate the level of air pollution. These particulates are tiny airborne droplets of soot/ dust and can be inhaled and potentially lead to respiratory problems (if the concentrations are high enough!). This is very typical of many cities worldwide, but elevated levels are always cause for concern.

The MISR instrument essentially works by measuring the ‘optical aerosol depth’, or how much incoming light from the sun if blocked by atmospheric particles. The above image shows that aerosol totals are higher over Rio than the surrounding areas which are most likely due to air pollution (the black marker is where Rio is located).

It’s very interesting that this can be determine from space, and demonstrates the advanced capabilities of many of the satellites that are currently in orbit. This is no major problem for the Olympics, although it may be a shock for some of the athletes, but what is more worrying is that with all this money spent on the facilities in Rio, should they have spent it to clean up the air quality in the city instead, to make it better for the local population? This will need to be addressed at some point because the health implications can be substantial, and with Brazil considered to be a developing AND sustainable country, they may now realise that something needs to be done and actions need to be taken to work towards clean air.

For more information, please visit NASA.

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