NASA brings 'aerosol Earth' into mesmerizing color

August 28, 2018, 8:12 a.m.
This image showcases the aerosol output around the planet on Aug. 23, 2018, including wildfires, hurricanes and dust storms.
Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

As you breathe, you take in the air around you. Sure, there's plenty of good oxygen, but there's also a range of naturally occurring and man-made particles in the air. These particles, called aerosols, are found in every environment on Earth, no matter what continent or ecosystem you're inhabiting.

The image above, developed using NASA's Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model, showcases the presence of aerosols in Earth's atmosphere on Aug. 23, 2018. Swirls of red, blue and purple indicate different types of aerosols.

For instance, the long stretches of red most visible along western North America and in southern Central Africa represent the release of black carbon from wildfires and from agricultural burning, respectively. Black carbon is routinely released by fires, but it also gets into the atmosphere through vehicle and factory emissions.

The blue dots and wisps indicate the presence of sea salt aerosol, which is known to influence weather patterns around the world. This aerosol can be stirred up by storms like Hurricane Lane, visible near the image's left-hand edge, and the typhoons Soulik and Cimaron, visible along the upper-right portion of the image, near South Korea and Japan.

Finally, purple is the color of dust. In this image, dust can be seen swirling from the Sahara desert across North Africa, as well as among countries near the Gulf of Oman and in China's Taklamakan desert.

One of the most startling things to take from this snapshot is the variety of ways in which aerosols can travel. Black carbon released from fires stretches into different areas. Notice how the agricultural burning in Africa has a tail that drifts off into the ocean, mixing with a trail of sea salt, or how the wildfires in the U.S. and Canada shroud the Midwestern U.S. in a light wisp of red. Aerosols spread, mingling with one another, creating a stunning but potentially unhealthy tapestry across the planet.

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