Real-time satellite data to be used for round-the-clock air quality management in Bengal

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) signed a memorandum of understanding with scientists from CERCA in IIT-Delhi earlier this week to manage air quality in eight polluted cities in the state, including Kolkata.

Real-time satellite data to be used for round-the-clock air quality management in Bengal
Real-time satellite data to be used for round-the-clock air quality management in Bengal

Real-time satellite data to be used for round-the-clock air quality management in Bengal

For the first time in India, real-time satellite data would be used for round-the-clock air quality management by any state pollution control board.

“Till date satellite data has been used by scientists for research, the findings of which have often been used by various state pollution control boards for air quality management. But this is for the first time that real-time satellite data would be used for air quality management in cities on a day-to-day basis,” said Sagnik Dey, coordinator of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air (CERCA) and associate professor at the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) signed a memorandum of understanding with scientists from CERCA in IIT-Delhi earlier this week to manage air quality in eight polluted cities in the state, including Kolkata.

All eight cities – Kolkata, Howrah, Durgapur, Raniganj, Asansol, Haldia and Barrackpore – are listed among the 122 non-attainment cities in India prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). These cities do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. They need to focus attention on multiple fronts to deal with high air pollution.

“We have signed a MoU with the IIT Delhi. For the first time a GIS-based air quality management system would be used. Initially we would start with Kolkata but later we plan to include all eight cities in phases. We are also coming up with a separate set up (a GIS laboratory) for this,” said Kalyan Rudra, chairman of WBPCB.

Senior officials of the WBPCB said that satellite data would be used to identify hotspots in these cities, major sources of pollution including crop-burning, trans-boundary movement of pollutants including those coming from Bangladesh, identify peak pollution periods and manage air quality round-the-clock. Satellite data would be also used to identify encroachment in the wetlands and garbage dumping.

How would it work? Trained WBPCB officials would identify sources of pollution from real time satellite data. Once the source is identified, the civic bodies and other government agencies in those areas would be asked to verify it on the ground and take immediate action. Once actions are taken on the ground the real time satellite data and data from low cost sensors would also be used to measure the dip in pollution levels because of the mitigating actions.

“In another first, our staff would be trained by the CERCA-scientists so that they are equipped to carry out this job themselves in future too. This would also help to reduce dependency on any third party for air quality management in future, as we would have dedicated trained staff and a set up,” said a senior WBPCB official.

This becomes all the more important because the union environment ministry in January 2019 had launched the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) with an aim to cut the concentration of PM10 and PM2.5 particles by at least 20% in the next five years, with 2017 as the base year for comparison.

“We are now getting higher resolution satellite data and the processing time has also come down drastically. So this is a very good use of satellite data, which was primarily used for trend analysis till date. It also shows the future forward for such collaborations between pollution control boards and academic institutions for effective air quality management,” said SN Tripathi, head of the civil engineering department at IIT-Kanpur and an expert member (steering committee) of NCAP.