Nothing summarizes the current state of the world’s fires much like NASA’s snapshot of Earth’s aerosols. With every breath you take you inhale millions of particulates found in the air, called aerosols.
As wildfires burn across the western United States, billows of ash have made their way across the continent. If you live in California you readily know just how much the fires are affecting air quality. Hence, it is essential to know and monitor air quality around the world.
NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing model provides that glimpse into the current aerosol air quality across the globe. Aerosols can be both natural, salt spray, pollen, dust, or can be man-made from cars, factories, or pollutants.
NASA uses satellites to detect solid and liquid particles as they are suspended and blown across our atmosphere. These satellites are able to image and discern everything from dust, volcanic ash, smoke from wildfires, pollution, and sea salts. While not all aerosols are health hazards, some can be dependent on concentration. These satellites measure aerosols by determining how much and in what ways the atmosphere reflects and absorbs different wavelengths of light.
The snapshot above was created by a model run on August 23rd, 2018. The colors represent three primary types of aerosols. Red/yellow is a measure of black carbon aerosols, produced from wildfires and other types of combustion. Purple is an indication of dust, and blue is a measure of sea salt spray.
It is incredible how clearly you can see major environmental events happening across the globe. You can clearly see smoke plumes billowing from western North America and southern Africa as fires rage. Meanwhile, fierce winds from Hurricane Lane and tropical cyclones Soulik and Cimaron blow sea salt into the atmosphere as they approach land. In the dry desert of Sahara, windblown dust is carried across the African continent. You will also notice specs of light in urban populated regions of the world, provided by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP.
If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire or dust blowing in the wind, you’ve seen aerosols. This visualization uses @NASAEarth satellite data to show the expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance & swirl through the atmosphere https://t.co/kSeB1jWjmPpic.twitter.com/I9BKFPik01
— NASA (@NASA) August 24, 2018
Through analyzing seasonal aerosol data for many years, it is clear there are consistent trends in how land use impacts air quality. NASA notes that there is typically high aerosol values over South America from July to September as land is cleared and burned in preparation for crops. They also note that dust particulates tend to rise from May through August in the Arabian Peninsula as dust storms become more common. Approximately 90 percent of all aerosols are natural and 10 percent are from man-made sources such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, etc.
Climate models such as this one employed by NASA help scientists and governmental agencies understand how land use impacts the broader environment and atmosphere. It is incredibly clear with these images how interlinked land and air is on our planet.