NASA's Global Aerosol Map Reveals the Long Reach of our Planet's Disasters

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The image released on August 23, 2018, highlights the atmospheric aerosols on that day based on data from satellites Terra, Aqua, Aura and Suomi NPP.

"If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols", NASA explains in a new blog post. Of course, if you're in the middle of a major city all you might smell is vehicle exhaust and sewer fumes, and a new image released by NASA shows that whatever is hiding in "a breath of fresh air" can vary wildly from place to place. They are fairly easy to spot in certain places. But now NASA, using a model called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing, has developed a graphic that offers a sweeping view of where exactly on Earth these aerosols are being created and how.

Some of these dust clouds are the result of weather events. Sea salt aerosol particles are one of the most widely distributed natural aerosols and consist of sea spray formed from oceanic ejections. Like all climate models, the GEOS FP model relies on mathematical equations that represent physical processes to calculate the level of aerosols in our atmosphere at any given time.

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The map's legend goes as follows; sea salt aerosols are indicated in blue, black carbon particles in red and simple dust in purple.

On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia.

Along with the aerosols in the atmosphere, this visualization also includes layers of night light data, notes the report. Instead, NASA used some careful mathematics to bring together data from a range of different types of sources in order to figure out where the densest concentrations of loose particles in the atmosphere are right now. Once again, nightlight data indicates the locations of major cities, urban corridors and transportation hubs.