In Brief

Wildfires and volcanic ash glow in Nasa’s aerosol Earth map

California’s forest fires and vehicle emissions are highlighted in strong reds

Nasa has released a visual image of how particles emitted from natural events such as wildfires and erupting volcanoes affect the Earth’s atmosphere.

The US space agency has used satellite imagery and ground sensors to plot the movement of “millions of unseen particles swirling throughout the skies”, the Daily Mail reports.

These particles, which Nasa calls aerosols, take the form of both liquid and solid emissions that are “suspended in the atmosphere”, the newspaper says.

According to Engadget, the aerosol Earth map [pictured top] highlights black carbon emissions in red. These particles can be emitted by wildfires, which may be why there’s a high concentration of them over California after this year’s forest fires.

Meanwhile corrosive sea salt particles “lofted by storms” are shown in blue and dust is marked in purple, the tech site says.

Aerosols highlighted in the image fly “high above our heads” and are often invisible, says the tech news site BGR

People underneath the aerosol clouds are unlikely to inhale anything harmful but the website says the potentially hazardous materials “have to come down somewhere”. Weather patterns often push aerosols closer to the ground, which pollutes air quality. This can cause respiratory problems for some people.

Most of the particles appear to be released through natural events beyond our control, but Nasa says that some of the black carbon emissions are caused by human activity.

For instance, the clouds of carbon above Africa are mostly caused by farmers lighting numerous small fires to maintain their crops, the space agency says. 

Carbon aerosols are also a common byproduct of vehicle emissions and the manufacturing industry.

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