NASA Photographs Huge Clouds of Pollution Over Earth

National Geographic News
May 31, 2001

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has assembled the most comprehensive view of air pollution in the Earth's atmosphere to date. Images from NASA's Terra spacecraft offer new ways to locate, identify, and track major sources of air pollution on Earth.

The spacecraft's initial observations reveal expansive clouds of carbon monoxide and other air pollutants spreading over continents and oceans worldwide. The major sources of these pollutants include natural air pollution from forest and grassland fires as well as human-based emissions from fossil-fuel burning.

John Gille, lead investigator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, stated that, "With these new observations, we clearly see that air pollution is much more than a local problem. It's a global issue."

Huge clouds of carbon monoxide from dry season fires in South America and Africa were seen to be spreading across the Southern Hemisphere. Across the Northern Hemisphere, the wintertime burning of fossil fuels was found to be a major source of air pollution.

The Terra spacecraft, first launched in December 1999, monitors carbon monoxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere as it circles the globe 16 times every day. The spacecraft's onboard monitoring instrument, MOPITT (Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere), was developed by Canadian scientists at the University of Toronto.

The first MOPITT observations are being released at the annual American Geophysical Union spring meeting in Boston.

  • This story will be aired on the television news show National Geographic Today at 7 p.m. ET/PT tonight.



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