NASA releases Earth map displaying vivid aerosol clouds

The US space agency has provided an enlightening visualisation of how particles emitted impact the Earth’s atmosphere.

Natural events such as wildfires and erupting volcanoes all affect the environment through the release and spread of aerosols. NASA explains that even if the air seems clear, it is “nearly certain” that we inhale both solid particles and liquid droplets in a large quantity.

Where do aerosols form?

These aerosols appear in all of the Earth’s ecosystems including mountains, oceans, forests and ice. However, they may not become visible unless we see these aerosols from wildfire smoke, volcano ash, factory pollution, sea salts and windblown dust.

From high above the Earth’s surface, Earth-observing satellites, however, such as NASA’s Aura, Aqua, Suomi NPP and Terra capture the presence of aerosols.

Aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere have the potential to warm or cool its surface. The size, location and type of aerosol will influence how these affect the temperature of the Earth’s surface.

Particle interaction

NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model provides a perspective of how collections of particles interact with one another and impact the atmosphere.

The GEOS FP model output for aerosols was captured on 23rd August 2018. It has been transformed into a visualisation to indicate the global aerosol output. 

Aerosols in the atmosphere

NASA found that on that particular day, considerable plumes of smoke travelled over both the US and Africa, significant dust clouds moved over African and Asian deserts and three different tropical cyclones occurred in the Pacific Ocean.

Storms, highlighted in blue, indicate large sea salt aerosol movements. Black carbon particles are identified in red and show the particles that have been emitted by fires, while NASA notes that vehicles and factory emission are also indicated by these particles. The purple areas relate to dust particles.

A layer of night light data has been gathered by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP, which identifies and demonstrates the areas that are towns and cities. 

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