Air quality over the Canadian oil sands

A first assessment using satellite observations

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Results from the first assessment of air quality over the Canadian oil sands–one of the largest industrial undertakings in human history–using satellite remote sensing observations of two pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), are presented. High-resolution maps were created that revealed distinct enhancements in both species over an area (roughly 30 km × 50 km) of intensive surface mining at scales of a few kilometers. The magnitude of these enhancements, quantified in terms of total mass, are comparable to the largest seen in Canada from individual sources. The rate of increase in NO2between 2005 and 2010 was assessed at 10.4 ± 3.5%/year and resulted from increases both in local values as well as the spatial extent of the enhancement. This is broadly consistent with both surface-measurement trends and increases in annual bitumen production. An increase in SO2 was also found, but given larger uncertainties, it is not statistically significant.