Air pollution in Moldova
from space

See the Moldovan regions through the eyes of the Sentinel 5P satellite

Air pollution

How much do you know about the air we breathe? Air pollution includes smoke, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, dust and anything else that is unhealthy for our life. Most of the pollutants in the air are the result of burning biomass (wood, plants) or fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas). 


Main data source

Sentinel 5p

Sentinel-5P mission (S5P) is currently the most precise satellite in orbit devoted to atmosphere monitoring. It was launched in October 2017 as part of the EU Copernicus Programme. It carries the TROPOMI spectrometer measuring concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and atmospheric aerosols with daily global coverage and a resolution of about 5.5 km x 3.5 km.

On Earth, air pollution is moving across the continents. For example smoke from forest fires can travel from one side of the globe to another. From space we can see that pollution collects mainly around large cities and industrialized areas. But how does it look like in Moldova? 

To find out, let's look at what the whole archive of Sentinel 5P satellite data can reveal about air pollution in Moldova and its regions. We will focus on the three main pollutants described below. 


Nitrogen dioxide

Key atmospheric pollutant produced by cars, coal power plants,  oil and metal refining.


Sulfur dioxide

Pollutant mostly connected to coal-fired power stations, industrial processes or other fossil fuel burning activities.


Carbon monoxide

A product of incomplete combustion in vehicles, heating, coal power generation, coke and steel industry.


Different data

different information

Difference between satellite and ground measurements

When two do the same thing, it is not the same thing after all

There is one last important note before we show you the most and the least polluted regions in Moldova. When looking at the results, keep in mind that satellites give you a different perspective than ground measurements. While ground measurements usually represent air pollution only at one spot on the ground level, satellites measure the concentration of pollution from the ground to the atmosphere.

Therefore, red color in satellite pollution maps does not necessarily mean a dangerous concentration, but only its relatively high occurrence in the context of Moldova.


Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

NO2 is a key atmospheric pollutant produced by human activities. Main sources are cars and trucks, petrol and metal refining, electricity generation from coal-fired power stations, other manufacturing industries and food processing.

There are three main hostpots of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Moldova:


Economically, the city is by far the most prosperous in the country and is also one of the main industrial centers and transport hubs in the region. To find out more about air pollution in Chișinău, please see the Urban Pulse Moldova.

Kuchurgan power station and Tiraspol

Kuchurgan power station is the largest power station in Moldova, providing about 83% of Moldova's electricity. It burns natural gas, fuel oil and coal and it has an installed capacity of 2,520 MW. Moreover, the region is also polluted due to the presence of Moldova’s second largest city of Tiraspol.

Moldova Steel Works in Rybnitsa

Visible pollution near the city of Rybnitsa is most likely caused by the presence of the Moldova Steel Works factory. In 2018, it produced almost 502,900 tonnes of steel and 497,900 tonnes of rolled goods. It accounts for more than half of the Transnistrian industrial output.

Changes during the year

Check the interactive graph to see the changes in pollution throughout the year. As you can see, NO2 pollution peaks during the winter time, when it doubles the summer levels.

Most polluted regions

Chişinău, Bender, Criuleni, Anenii Noi and Bălţi districts have the highest average pollution levels.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2)

Only about 30% of SO2 comes from natural sources, such as volcanoes. Human sources include coal-fired power stations, industrial processes or other fossil fuel burning (such as domestic heating).

Harsh winter

The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air also peaks during the winter. The values increase five to ten times compared to summer all across Moldova.

No hotspots

Concentrations of SO2 are very similar across Moldova. They are so low it is not possible to identify industrial hotspots.

Most affected regions

Leova, Hîncesti, Cantemir, Bălţi, Ialoveni and Ungheni districts show the highest mean levels of sulphur dioxide..

Carbon monoxide (CO)

It is a product of incomplete combustion in vehicles, heating, coal power plants, waste disposal, and biomass burning. Approximately 40% of CO comes from natural sources like volcanic eruptions, emission of natural gases and forest fires, and 60% comes from human activities.

Satellite monitoring shows us how the amount of CO in the atmosphere directly relates to altitude. Generally speaking, the higher you are, the lesser CO emissions are present.

The distribution of CO is relatively similar across Moldova. Nevertheless, Bender, Cahul, Glodeni and Chişinău districts have the highest average concentrations.

Interestingly, the situation in the Cahul region is caused mainly by the presence of the largest Romanian steel mill (Galați steel works), just across the border.


In comparison to most European countries, air pollution is generally low in Moldova.

However, low average regional values do not mean there might be local hotspots, where pollution levels are significantly higher. Moreover, other pollutants not observed by the Sentinel 5p satellite can severely affect human health. Only in-situ ground measurements are able to unveil such pollution. Improving air quality monitoring with sensor networks is therefore recommended as well as other actions summarized below. 

What can governments do?

Policies supporting the improvement of air quality should focus on four key areas:  

Tax pollution,
not people
Stop subsidizing fossil fuels
Stop building new coal plants
Focus on a green and not a grey economy

Do you want to explore more data? Check our web application below. It enables you to check concentrations of different air pollutants across Moldova during the last 2 to 3 years from the Sentinel 5P satellite and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

About the project

This story is based on the "COVID-19 Impact on Air Quality in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova", a study realized by World from Space for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) within the European Space Agency EO clinic framework in 2020.

The study contains modified Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service data [2017-2020] and modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2018-2020]. Maps contain data from © OpenStreetMap contributors (

The photos used on this page come from the European Space Agency, Unsplash, Piaxabay and Wikimedia Commons galleries. 

DATE:  September 16, 2020

Contact Info

World from Space

Pellicova 624/3

Brno, Czech Republic

+420 603 546 994