I am trying to formulate a research topic centered around the environmental effects of general aviation's continued use of leaded gasoline (containing tetraethyllead) to power piston aircraft. In particular I am interested in studying the extent to which lead levels may or may not be elevated around airports that serve such small piston aircraft.

Are there any extant remote sensing techniques for detecting the presence of lead particulate in the atmosphere or soil? Can spectroscopy be used to detect lead in the same way as satellites do for other pollutants, like CO2 and methane?

If such remote sensing capability exists -- whether through satellites or something more small-scale -- does anyone know if NASA has any equipment capable of collecting such data?

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    $\begingroup$ For real estate diagnosis, there are portable lead analysers, see for instance: physitek.fr/en/materiel/real-estate-diagnosis/…. They use X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to detect lead. I don't think XRF can be used from space as you need to bombard the material to analyse with X-rays... $\endgroup$ – Jean-Marie Prival Jul 30 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question! I suspect that the natural concentrations of lead in the air of apparently 0.6 ng/m³ (which if my back-of-the-envelope calculation is right is less than 1 ppt) is far too low to be detectable from satellites, and you'd need in-situ measurements like these. ACE-FTS can measure some constituents with very low (cont.) $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 30 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ concentrations, but those are complicated molecules with lots of spectral lines (think CFCs). Lead is just an element, and I don't know much about the chemistry of the form in which lead may occur in the atmosphere, but the simpler the molecule, the fewer spectral lines, the higher the concentration it needs to be to be detectable. So probably lead is not going to work, sorry! (Comment rather than answer because I don't know for sure, I just have some pointers to point you in the right direction). $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 30 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question- perhaps not in the air but lead can be concentrated by plants. Here is a study using hyperspectral reflectance to measure lead concentration in lettuce tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/…. $\endgroup$ – David LeBauer Oct 3 at 3:41

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