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NASA To Fly Low Over Region For Air Quality Study

WASHINGTON (WJZ)—Don't panic if you see large planes flying unusually low over Maryland roadways next week. It's all part of a major plan by NASA to help study air pollution over major cities.

Derek Valcourt explains where you'll be seeing some of those low-flying planes.

The study will focus on air pollution over many of Maryland's major roads, from Baltimore's beltway, to the 95 corridor, even over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

This is no ordinary plane, it's a specially fitted NASA aircraft designed with equipment to measure air pollution levels in flight. And starting next week the skies over Maryland will become a pollution detection playground for the plane and for NASA scientists.

"The public I think is very interested in knowing where air pollution problems are the largest, and then they have the ability to make their own decisions about their own activities and times and places they would like to avoid," said Dr. James Crawford, NASA atmospheric scientist.

Maryland's Department of Environment already has six pollution monitoring stations on the ground, but they're spread out and only can tell you pollution levels in the immediate area.

On the other hand, NASA satellites already monitor air pollution across the globe, but those readings have their own problems.

"But you can't really tell from the satellite data itself whether that pollution is somewhere higher in the atmosphere or down near the surface," said Dr. Kenneth Pickering, NASA atmospheric scientist.

That's where these special planes come in.

 They'll fly low over busy roadways collecting data and then fly in spiral patterns over the six ground monitoring stations Maryland already has in place, helping NASA scientists to determine how much air pollution is down where we breathe.

 "It's a challenging mission," said Rich Rodgers, NASA research pilot. "One of the most challenging because we are doing it over the top of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore this summer."

NASA pilots are now warning Marylanders to be on the lookout as their planes fly as low as 1000 feet off the ground in the coming month.

Test flights will begin next week. NASA says in all they expect 14 science flights in July, taking their planes from Washington beltway over Baltimore and up to northeastern Maryland near the Delaware line.

The flight dates will be determined by the weather and announced by NASA by 5 p.m. the day before a flight.

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