The observations from Earth orbit show high-altitude concentrations of the gas that are more than 10 times typical amounts.
NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS),
aboard the Aqua satellite, captured carbon monoxide plumes coming from California
wildfires last week. There were 28 major wildfires burning across the state as
of Sept. 14. This includes the August Complex Fire, which started on Aug. 17
and has since burned over 471,000 acres, making it the largest fire on record
The animation shows three-day averages of
carbon monoxide concentrations around 3 miles (5 kilometers) up in the
atmosphere between Sept. 6 and Sept. 14. The red and orange areas indicate regions
with extremely high carbon monoxide concentrations of greater than 350 parts
per billion by volume (ppbv). The more normal, background concentrations of
carbon monoxide show up as yellow and green, with amounts between 30 and 50
Released by the fires along
with smoke and ash, carbon monoxide is a pollutant that can persist in the
atmosphere for about a month and can be transported great distances. At the
high altitude mapped in these images, the gas has little effect on the air we
breathe; however, strong winds can carry it downwards to where it can significantly
impact air quality. Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and
intense heat from the wildfires lofted the carbon monoxide high into the
atmosphere, enabling detection by the AIRS instrument. The jet stream then blew
the carbon monoxide plume eastward across the U.S. and over the Atlantic Ocean.
AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced
Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation
from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth’s weather and climate.
Working in tandem, the two instruments make simultaneous observations down to
Earth’s surface. With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the
atmosphere, the system creates a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric
temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations
and many other atmospheric phenomena. Launched into Earth orbit in 2002, the
AIRS and AMSU instruments fly onboard NASA’s Aqua spacecraft and are managed by
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under contract to
NASA. JPL is a division of Caltech.
The latest carbon monoxide data, as well
as other information from NASA Earth-observing missions can be viewed at the
fully interactive Eyes on the Earth. With the “Latest Events” feature,
you can explore geo-located satellite images of recent Earth events, including
algal blooms and wildfires.
More information about AIRS can be found
News Media Contact
Jane J. Lee / Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0307 / 818-354-2649
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory