Gorgeous but Terrifying NASA Map Shows Aerosol Clouds Spread Across the Globe

A new visualization of our planet's aerosol atmospheric trajectories has revealed that these substances leave no corner of the world untouched.
Loukia Papadopoulos

About nine months ago, it seemed there was some good news for our environment as NASA reported that the once gaping hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer had shrunk to the smallest it has been since 1988. We all breathed a sigh of relief!

However, the latest news from the space agency has just revealed that taking such deep breaths may not be so wise. It turns out that our planet's atmosphere is filled with dangerous particles and droplets of aerosols.

Aerosols everywhere!

These specks of matter leave no corner of our beloved planet in peace according to a new map courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory. The beautiful yet scary illustration reveals these substances cover all our cities, oceans, deserts, mountains and even ice caps.

The map is created using a simulation model called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP). This unique tool combined aerosol data from satellites like Terra, Aqua, Aura, and Suomi NPP with information collected by sensors on the ground to give us these visualizations of aerosol outputs on our planet on August 23, 2018.

Gorgeous but Terrifying NASA Map Shows Aerosol Clouds Spread Across the Globe
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

The map's legend goes as follows; sea salt aerosols are indicated in blue, black carbon particles in red and simple dust in purple. Sea salt aerosol particles are one of the most widely distributed natural aerosols and consist of sea spray formed from oceanic ejections.

Meanwhile, black carbon particles are dangerous aerosols responsible for human morbidity. They consist of pure carbon formed through the incomplete combustion of both fossil fuels and biomass.

Our Earth's problem spots on display

To make the visualization more decipherable, NASA incorporated a layer of night light data from the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that delineates the many locations of towns and cities. The end result is a visual representation of complex mathematical equations that brings to life the real-world physical processes and problems our Earth is currently experiencing.

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Gorgeous but Terrifying NASA Map Shows Aerosol Clouds Spread Across the Globe
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

As such, the events that were the source of devastating issues on the ground on August 23rd can also be witnessed on the map. The imminent approach of Category 4 cyclone Hurricane Lane on Hawaiian lands can be inferred from the map's swirls as well as the beginning of twin tropical cyclones Soulik and Cimaron's paths toward South Korea and Japan.


Other phenomena illustrated are of less pressing natures such as the seasonal smoke plumes over central Africa caused by farmers' crop maintenance fires and the after-effects of wildfires still lingering in smoke clouds over North America. Although these activities make for a beautiful colorful illustration, the map brings a visual warning of what scientists have been repeating with ever increased urgency.

Alarming environmental events, including cyclones, wildfires, rising sea levels and overall extreme heat, are on the rise due to the growing impacts of global warming. In 2018 alone, 118 all-time heat records were broken worldwide and the trend is only set to continue. Will we fix things in time before our planet becomes truly uninhabitable?