Satellite Monitoring for Air Quality and Health

Annual Review of Biomedical Data Science

Vol. 4:417-447 (Volume publication date July 2021)
First published as a Review in Advance on June 1, 2021


Data from satellite instruments provide estimates of gas and particle levels relevant to human health, even pollutants invisible to the human eye. However, the successful interpretation of satellite data requires an understanding of how satellites relate to other data sources, as well as factors affecting their application to health challenges. Drawing from the expertise and experience of the 2016–2020 NASA HAQAST (Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team), we present a review of satellite data for air quality and health applications. We include a discussion of satellite data for epidemiological studies and health impact assessments, as well as the use of satellite data to evaluate air quality trends, support air quality regulation, characterize smoke from wildfires, and quantify emission sources. The primary advantage of satellite data compared to in situ measurements, e.g., from air quality monitoring stations, is their spatial coverage. Satellite data can reveal where pollution levels are highest around the world, how levels have changed over daily to decadal periods, and where pollutants are transported from urban to global scales. To date, air quality and health applications have primarily utilized satellite observations and satellite-derived products relevant to near-surface particulate matter <2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Health and air quality communities have grown increasingly engaged in the use of satellite data, and this trend is expected to continue. From health researchers to air quality managers, and from global applications to community impacts, satellite data are transforming the way air pollution exposure is evaluated.