NASA is set to test a new project they call the "Sensor Web," combining data from multiple sources to build a more complete picture of atmospheric pollutants. It will make heavy use of the Earth Observing System satellites we've mentioned before, and the initial test will rely just on the Aqua and Aura satellites. But, when deployed, the Sensor Web won't stop there:
This interconnected "web of sensors" coordinates observations by spacecraft, airborne instruments and ground-based data-collecting stations. Instead of operating independently, these sensors collect data as a collaborative group, sharing information about an event as it unfolds over time. The sensor web system is able to react by making new, targeted measurements as a volcanic ash plume is transported to air traffic routes, or when smoke of a wildfire is carried aloft, then dispersed over large metropolitan areas. The sensor web has the potential to improve the response time of our observing systems by reconfiguring their sensors to react to variable or short-lived events and then transmit that information to decision makers so that appropriate alerts can be issued to those people living in the impacted areas.
What makes this project particularly notable is the system collaboration aspect. Previous multi-sensor projects would simply combine the data after-the-fact; the Sensor Web will use inputs from one set of sensors to guide another. Moreover, the Sensor Web will be using a "model-based" approach, using simulations and forecasts to project where the sensors should point next.
If a model forecasts high concentrations of CO, the sensor web's instruments can be commanded to make targeted observations of those locations. The actual sensor measurements can then be fed back into the computer model to improve the accuracy of the forecast. Talabac's team hopes to illustrate how such a model-driven sensor web could be used to enhance current measurement techniques, and bring to bear multiple complementary instruments to respond to rapidly changing environmental conditions.
NASA intends to start Sensor Web operations later this year.
Does this project have immediate military/anti-terrorism or law enforcement applications? Besides CO2 there's no mention of other man-made pollutants NASAs sensors and satellites might be able to detect and track. (radiation, meth-labs, biologics?)
How precise are these sensors?
In response to John Cieciel's comment:
At NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the Sensor Web concept was born in 1997, the in situ Sensor Webs being developing have uses for homeland security. This team has been fielding Sensor Webs for many years with live, real-time streaming data available. Go to http://sensorwebs.jpl.nasa.gov for more information (including the streaming data). In particular, also go to the 10 page slide show in the Briefings & Papers section of the website.