China to use satellites, drones to monitor pollution

China will build a comprehensive network to detect pollution of the land, sea and air by 2020, employing satellites, drones and remote sensors to monitor the environment.

The national leadership approved the network plan in July, saying the government will lead the monitoring, share information among departments and regions, and be held accountable if violations are found, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Tuesday.

Satellites, a major tool for monitoring air pollution, will receive a boost this year. The ministry said it will accelerate research on two atmospheric environmental monitoring satellites and two satellites with higher resolution than those currently available.

The ministry will improve a remote sensor network, guided by the goals of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), which is scheduled to be released at the end of this year, according to the ministry’s Environmental Supervision Department.

Remote monitoring has played a bigger role in locating pollution sources. Drones helped authorities locate polluted areas in the Tengger Desert in northern China and identify scattered summer straw burnings.

Hebei province, which has a serious air pollution problem, has cooperated with the ministry’s Satellite Environment Center to conduct monitoring from satellites and monitoring stations since January last year.

“We used the data from the center’s satellites to forecast the movement of smog during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in November,” Zhang Feng, an engineer in the Environmental Supervision Department of the provincial environmental watchdog, said on Tuesday.

Data collected from monitoring stations helped authorities provide accurate forecasts on hazy days during that period, he said.

Currently, the environmental satellites are used as support tools, as there are not enough of them, Zhang said. After the province builds a system to analyze and process data by the end of this year, the satellites will become more important.

The ministry will also strengthen the supervision of data collected through multiple channels, which is “important to keep the environmental management policies and measures effective and scientific”, Chen Jining, the environmental minister, said in July.

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