Atmospheric Aerosol Dance Party

By Nick

The good people at NASA are once again, trying their hand at some animations. Following the Van Gogh-esque perpetual ocean video, this latest release from the Goddard Global Modeling and Assimilation Office has a more atmospheric feel to it. This psychedelic video shows a trace of the world’s aerosols between August 2006 and April 2007.

View the original video here from NASA – high res, large file size version.

The data comes partly from the 30 million odd observations made of the atmosphere each day, but this isn’t enough so a model (GEOS-5 and GOCART) is used to fill in the gaps and create this cool visual.

An aerosol is any fine solid material suspended in a gas (the atmosphere). The reds correspond to dust. You can see just how much of the Amazon rainforest gets fertilized by the Sahara desert in Africa. The blues are sea-salt, whirling around the southern ocean and picking out the weather systems across the ocean basins. The greens are carbon, resulting largely from the burning of biomass.

But it is the white particles that interest me most. These are sulphate aerosols. Nowadays the majority of these aerosols are coming from the main industrial areas of the planet. But you can also pinpoint individual volcanoes giving off plumes of sulphate rich volcanic gases. Particularly around January 2007 in southern Africa. This is the eruption of Karthala Volcano on Grand Comore Island, Comoros.

I find this part especially interesting as a significant proportion of my PhD is spent trying to measure sulphate in stalagmites. Varying volcanic activity through time results in differing amounts of volcanic sulphate in the atmosphere, which gets rained out of the atmosphere and hopefully into my stalagmites. This video provides me with a great little snapshot of how the sulphate aerosols travel around the world.

Check out Huffington Post’s article for more.

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