Dutch space tech shows India a top polluter; Funding cut for Black Hole telescope

An image of world air pollution taken by Dutch space instrument Tropomi
An image of world air pollution taken by Dutch space instrument TropomiPhoto: Tropomi

The latest images from Dutch space instrument Tropomi, which maps air pollution around the globe, shows that India is the new top polluter in the world. Also, research shows that the Netherlands has one of the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in Europe, Pieternel Levelt, head of satellite observation at Dutch meteorological institute KNMI and professor at TU Delft, said to newspaper AD. 

Tropomi stands for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument. It measures the chemical composition of the troposphere, the lowest layer of he atmosphere at between 10 and 15 kilometers altitude, where the most air polluting substances are located. The instrument first measures sunlight, and them compares the measurements to the sunlight reflected by the atmosphere. The differences in light indicate which gases are present and in what amounts. The data and images it collects are accessible to everyone online

The images show at a glance where the emission of harmful substances from car traffic, industry and power stations are at their highest. Green indicates clean areas, reddish-brown spots the most polluted. The Tropomi was launched in 2017 and has been collecting data ever since. As the results are collected and compared over the long term, researchers can see whether measures to improve air quality have an effect.

"Long data series are becoming increasingly important because you can pick trends from them", Levelt said to the newspaper. "Europe and the US have taken many measures. We have seen a clear decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution in the last ten years. We first saw a strong increase in China, but it has leveled out because the Chinese have also taken measures. India is the new big polluter. We also expect problems in Africa in the future."

Other problem areas include the German Ruhr area, Paris and the Route du Sleil in France, the shipping routes on the Mediterranean Sea, the Po Valley in Northern Italy, and also Amsterdam and Rotterdam. "This shows that we have one of the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in Europe", Levelt said.

In other space related news, the Netherlands is ending its cooperation with the Event Horizon Telescope - the telescope that made it possible to take the first ever photo of a black hole earlier this year, the Volkskrant reported. Four requests for follow-up funding were rejected by the Netherlands organization for scientific research, because there is no more money left, according to the newspaper. 

The Netherlands played an important role in the development of the Event Horizon Telescope. The head of the scientific council, one of the members of the board, and the project leader all came from Dutch universities. 

Remo Tilanus, project leader at Leiden University, is disappointed, he said to the newspaper. "As the Netherlands, we invested a lot to get that prominent place at the table. Now we are in danger of losing that place again."

A European research grant could ensure that the Netherlands can resume work on the Event Horizon Telescope, but there will only be certainty about this grant in 2021, according to the Volkskrant.