Freight from Space: Evaluating Freight Activity and Emissions Trends from Satellite Data

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March 2012
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September 2012
March 2013
Research Brief Final Report

Primary Investigator

Tracey Holloway
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1710 University Ave., Room 201A
Madison, WI 53726


This project will harness state-of-the-art satellite data to analyze and quantify freight activity. Because ground-level air monitors are generally located in densely populated areas, they are not well suited to assess trends in freight emissions, nor to validate activity assumptions in emission inventories. We propose using satellite data to fill these information needs. To conduct this analysis, we will employ a roadway-by-roadway truck emissions inventory developed by our group over the past two years with CFIRE support, and–as part of the current proposal–develop a complimentary line-by-line rail inventory drawing on data from the Freight Analysis Framework 2.2 and Oak Ridge National Lab. Using these unique, high-resolution inventories in concert with national and regional estimates of other emission sources, we will model atmospheric concentrations of emitted and chemically formed pollutants using the EPA CMAQ model. Column densities of NO2 and CO will be compared to observations from the NASA Aura satellite, launched in 2004. This project will produce the first satellite analysis of ground-based transportation emissions, and it will provide recommendations for transportation stakeholders interested in utilizing NASA satellite products to inform freight analysis.


The proposed study will utilize satellite retrievals of atmospheric constituents to assess surface freight activity and emission trends.


  1. Build rail emissions inventory.
  2. Calculate atmospheric concentrations associated with emissions from truck, rail, and other anthropogenic and natural sources using the EPA CMAQ model.
  3. Compare model results with satellite observations and explain differences.
  4. Identify future opportunities for freight satellite analysis.

Project Information

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Dates: September 1, 2010 – August 31, 2012
  • Budget: $150,000
  • Student Involvement: One graduate student and one undergraduate
  • Modal Orientation: Highway, Rail
  • Project ID: CFIRE 04-20
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