Young Innovators: U of S researcher helps protect the atmosphere by interpreting satellite data

Dube’s data demonstrated that NO2 levels in the stratosphere have increased.

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If you look at the night sky, you may be looking directly at the Odin satellite, which houses the OSIRIS (Optical Spectrograph and InfraRed Imaging System) instrument developed by the University of Saskatchewan.

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Kimberlee Dube, a doctoral candidate in the U of S College of Arts and Sciences, works directly with data collected by OSIRIS and other satellite instruments to analyze changes in Earth’s atmosphere. These changes can significantly affect life on Earth.

“The goal of my research group is to understand how the atmosphere changes. We focus on the middle atmosphere, about 10 to 50 kilometers above the Earth (the stratosphere),” Dube said.

“We care about this region of the atmosphere because it is home to the ozone layer which protects us by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation.”

The stratosphere is heavily affected by activities on Earth, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions that release small particles into the air, she said. These particles, called aerosols, have the potential to block sunlight from reaching Earth and cool the atmosphere to unsustainable levels. Human-made pollution can also cause chemical changes in the stratosphere that could lead to similar negative effects.

To study the effects of different events on the stratosphere and map changes over time, the research team from Dube’s Department of Physics and Physical Engineering uses a myriad of tools and techniques to collect data in the area.

“My research group designs and builds instruments that go on stratospheric aircraft, balloons and satellites,” Dube said. “These measure important parameters such as ozone, aerosols, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or water vapor concentrations.”

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Rising NO2 is a recent concern for scientists studying the ozone layer. Since greenhouse gas emissions have been largely reduced by environmental protection protocols, NO2 has become the main contributor to ozone depletion.

Potential effects of ozone destruction due to increased NO2 include damage to plants and animals, and increased incidents of diseases such as skin cancer due to higher UV radiation.

Satellites have measured NO2 concentrations in the atmosphere since the 1980s, but complicated chemistry makes the data difficult to use in scientific studies, Dube said.

“Nitrous oxide (N2O) is emitted by many human activities, particularly the use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture,” she said. “Once N2O enters the stratosphere, it is converted into NO2 which destroys ozone. Therefore, knowing what is happening with NO2 in the stratosphere is important to understand what is happening with the atmospheric layer. ‘ozone.

Part of his research focuses on improving data recording so that measurements made using instruments such as OSIRIS can be interpreted more accurately in research. His data showed that NO2 levels in the stratosphere have increased.

Dube found both successful publications and presentations throughout his doctoral program, with publications in major journals such as the Journal of Geophysical Research and the opportunity to share results with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA) during the annual Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III/International Space Station Science Team Meeting.

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She has engaged in numerous research collaborations with others in the field, including researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“I’ve always been interested in weather and climate. It’s interesting to learn more about the physics and chemistry behind these processes,” Dube said. “My research has resulted in NO2 data that better represents what is actually happening in the atmosphere.”

Funding for the research was provided by the Canadian Space Agency and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

This content is from a partnership between the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the University of Saskatchewan.

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