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The World’s Aerosol Patterns Mapped by NASA’s Goddard Earth

Tiny solid and liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere are called aerosols. Windblown dust, sea salts, volcanic ash, smoke from wildfires, and pollution from factories are all examples of aerosols. Depending upon their size, type, and location, aerosols can either cool the surface, or warm it. They can help clouds to form, or they can inhibit cloud formation. And if inhaled, some aerosols can be harmful to people’s health.

When viewed from space, a number of patterns emerge from Earth’s aerosols—some driven by nature and others by man.

Through numerical experiments that simulate the dynamical and physical processes governing weather and climate variability of Earth’s atmosphere, models create a dynamic portrait of our planet. This 10-kilometer global mesoscale simulation (Nature Run) using the NASA Goddard Earth Observing System Model (GEOS-5) explores the evolution of surface temperatures as the sun heats the Earth and fuels cloud formation in the tropics and along baroclinic zones; the presence of water vapor and precipitation within these global weather patterns; the dispersion of global aerosols from dust, biomass burning, fossil fuel emissions, and volcanoes; and the winds that transport these aerosols from the surface to upper-levels.

The full GEOS-5 simulation covered 2 years–from May 2005 to May 2007.

Dust (red), sea salt (blue), organic/black carbon (green), and sulfates (white) displayed by their extinction aerosol optical thickness.