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Satellite study identifies nearly 40 major previously unidentified sources of SO2; 6-12% of global anthropogenic inventory

Using a new satellite-based, global emission inventory for SO2 that is derived through a simultaneous detection, mapping and emission-quantifying procedure—and thereby independent of conventional information sources—researchers in Canada and the US have identified 40 large SO2 sources not currently captured in conventional inventories.

The missing sources are in the developing world, with more than one-third clustered around the Persian Gulf. Together, the newly identified sources add up to 7 to 14 Tg of SO2 yr−1, or roughly 6–12% of the global anthropogenic source.

The team’s estimates of national total emissions are generally in line with conventional numbers, but for some regions, and for SO2 emissions from volcanoes, the discrepancies can be as large as a factor of three or more.

When released into the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide forms sulfuric acid and fine particulate matter, secondary pollutants that have significant adverse effects on human health, the environment and the economy.

Conventional, bottom-up emissions inventories used to assess impacts, are often incomplete or outdated, particularly for developing nations that lack comprehensive emission reporting requirements and infrastructure.


  • Chris A. McLinden, Vitali Fioletov, Mark W. Shephard, Nick Krotkov, Can Li, Randall V. Martin, Michael D. Moran & Joanna Joiner (2016) “Space-based detection of missing sulfur dioxide sources of global air pollution” Nature Geoscience doi: 10.1038/ngeo2724


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