Whose Dust Are You Eating?
It's Thanksgiving week in the U.S. and alongside a plate full of turkey, stuffing, cranberries and the rest of the holiday
repast, Americans will be downing our share of aerosols.
I don't mean the
spray cans that make holes in the ozone layer. Aerosols are the
scientific name for small airborne particles, like dust, sea salt, and sulfates
from volcanoes and fossil fuel emissions. This new NASA
video visualization of global aerosol data from the GOES-5 satellite
shows, better than any words, how different kinds of aerosols move
around the world on this dusty planet. On any given day, Americans are breathing particles from India, Africa, China, Mexico, you name it.
Keep in mind when you are viewing, that
these are not true colors of aerosols. They are false-colored to
make them easier to distinguish from each other. Dust is red, sea
salt is blue (it swirls inside cyclones), smoke is green and comes
from fires and sulfate particles are white and from volcanoes and
fossil fuel burning. There's a lot going on, so it's worth playing
several times while staring at a particular patch of the globe.
As you can see, everyone on Earth is taking part in the dust feast. It's all a matter of where you are and what time of year it is. One take home message from this is that aerosols are the great equalizer. No country can keep out the air from other places. It's all the same thin shell of gases that we share. So it's best not to muck it up.
A little more info from NASA about the
Satellites, balloon-borne instruments and ground-based devices make 30 million observations of the atmosphere each day. Yet these measurements still give an incomplete picture of the complex interactions within Earth's atmosphere. Enter climate models. Through mathematical experiments, modelers can move Earth forward or backward in time to create a dynamic portrait of the planet. NASA Goddard's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office recently ran a simulation of the atmosphere that captured how winds whip aerosols around the world. Such simulations allow scientists to better understand how these tiny particulates travel in the atmosphere and influence weather and climate. In this visualization, covering August 2006 to April 2007, watch as dust and sea salt swirl inside cyclones, carbon bursts from fires, sulfate streams from volcanoes, and see how these aerosols paint the modeled world.