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Harnessing Satellite Data and AI for Aviation Emissions Monitoring


The effect of the Schiphol airport is not reflected in the concentrations of Particulate Matter


In today's world, the aviation industry plays a vital role in connecting people and goods across the globe. However, it also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, making it a crucial sector to monitor and mitigate. To address this issue, we turn to cutting-edge technology: satellite data and artificial intelligence (AI). In this blog post, we'll explore how the combination of satellite data and AI could revolutionize the way we monitor aviation emissions and work towards a more sustainable future.


The aviation industry is responsible for a substantial portion of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In addition to CO2, aviation also emits other greenhouse gases and pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Monitoring these emissions and their effects on the ground accurately and consistently is a significant challenge, given the industry's global reach, the dynamic nature of flight paths, and the lack of measurements.


Satellites orbiting our planet have become indispensable tools for monitoring the Earth's environment. They offer a unique vantage point, allowing us to collect data on a global scale with high temporal and spatial resolution. When it comes to tracking aviation emissions, satellites can provide crucial information in several ways:


1. Tracking Aircraft Movements: Satellites equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receivers can detect and track the movements of aircraft. ADS-B technology broadcasts information about an aircraft's position, altitude, speed, and identification. This data can be used to create accurate flight paths for thousands of planes simultaneously.

2. Measuring Atmospheric Composition: Some satellites are equipped with sensors that can measure the composition of the atmosphere, including concentrations of CO2, NOx, and other pollutants. These measurements provide valuable insights into the emissions produced by aircraft during flight.

3. Monitoring Contrails and Cirrus Cloud Formation: Satellites can also observe the formation of contrails (condensation trails) and cirrus clouds triggered by aviation emissions. These high-altitude clouds have a significant impact on the Earth's radiation balance and climate.


While satellite data is invaluable for collecting information, analyzing this massive volume of data requires advanced techniques. This is where AI comes into play. Artificial intelligence algorithms can process and interpret satellite data quickly and accurately. Here's how AI enhances the monitoring of aviation emissions:


1. Data Fusion and Integration: AI can integrate various data sources, including satellite data, weather data, flight data, and ground-based air quality measurements, to create a comprehensive picture of aviation emissions. This holistic view allows for more precise assessments of emissions.

2. Emission Estimation Models: Machine learning algorithms can be trained to estimate the contribution of aviation to global emissions and assess the impact they have on the ground level. These models can calculate emissions for individual flights or entire fleets.

3. Real-time Monitoring: AI can provide real-time updates on aviation emissions, making it possible to respond swiftly to irregularities or changes in flight patterns that might contribute to increased emissions.


S[&]T’s contribution to the RefMap project is AIR-Portal, an air quality platform for urban areas. AIR-Portal uses a custom-designed, local Air Quality Model that uses AI to combine remote sensing, land use, atmospheric models, and local monitoring data into air quality data at a usable spatial resolution throughout target cities.


Since AIR-Portal was originally designed for urban areas, it does not take aviation emissions into account. During the RefMap project, we will extend the AIR-Portal model by including flight patterns, as well as sensor stations near airports, to better understand the impact of aviation on air quality near airports.


The aviation industry faces increasing pressure to reduce its environmental impact. Although flying less is the most crucial step, accurate monitoring of emissions is also vital for further reduction of aviation emissions. The use of satellite data and AI has the potential to be a game-changing approach, offering unmatched capabilities for tracking aviation emissions accurately and in real time. As technology continues to advance, we can expect even more sophisticated methods for monitoring and mitigating the environmental footprint of aviation. Ultimately, this innovation brings us closer to achieving a more sustainable future in the skies.

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