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NASA paints compelling picture of Earth's aerosols

posted 19 Nov 2012, 12:57 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 Nov 2012, 12:58 ]

Using satellite data collected over eight months, NASA scientists have created a compelling time-lapse view of the dust, smoke and sea salt that continually swirl around the earth.

 ANIMATION  (NASA/GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER) -  NASA's animated portrait of aerosol movement around the Earth is a simulationof real events based on data produced by satellites, balloon-borne and ground-based instruments between August 19, 2006 and April 10, 2007. It was produced by researchers using a super-computer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center inGreenbeltMaryland.

Ninety percent of the aerosols swirling around the earth are produced naturally. They include dust lifted by winds from deserts, carbon in smoke from forest fires and sea salt whipped up over the world's oceans. They are found in the air over every eco-system from mountain ranges and plains to oceans and jungles. The other ten percent of aerosols are human-made, coming from fossil fuels burned by factrories and cars and fires from deforestation.

The NASA portrait provides visual insight into the natural events that took place over eight months. A massive storm over the Sahara desert blows dust (coloured red) across the Atlantic as far as Florida over a period of about two months. Sea salt (coloured blue) swirls constantly around the poles but is occasionally sucked into the vortices of Atlantic hurricanes and Pacific typhoons where it appears on the map in pin-pricks of colour. Fires in central Africa and southeastern Australia release carbon (coloured green) into the atmosphere, while an eruption from the Karthala volcano on Gran Comore Island spews a burst of sulphate (coloured white) into the air.

By taking the data from tens of million of observations, NASA modelers are able to move Earth forward or backward in time to create a dynamic portrait of the planet. Simulations like the aerosol portrait allow scientists to better understand how aerosols travel in the atmosphere and influence weather and climate.