NASA Video Shows How Far Wildfire Smoke Travels

Nov 20, 2017

How can you see the atmosphere? By tracking what is carried on the wind. Tiny aerosol particles such as smoke, dust, and sea salt are transported across the globe, making visible weather patterns and other normally invisible physical processes. Check out how far the wildfire smoke from the western U.S. travels.

This visualization uses data from NASA satellites, combined with mathematical models in a computer simulation allow scientists to study the physical processes in our atmosphere. By following the sea salt that is evaporated from the ocean, you can see the storms of the 2017 hurricane season.

During the same time, large fires in the Pacific Northwest released smoke into the atmosphere. Large weather patterns can transport these particles long distances: in early September, you can see a line of smoke from Oregon and Washington, down the Great Plains, through the South, and across the Atlantic to England.

Dust from the Sahara is also caught in storms systems and moved from Africa to the Americas. Unlike the sea salt, however, the dust is removed from the center of the storm. The dust particles are absorbed by cloud droplets and then washed out as it rains. Advances in computing speed allow scientists to include more details of these physical processes in their simulations of how the aerosols interact with the storm systems.

Supercomputing 2017 conference:

Credits: Matthew R. Radcliff (USRA): Lead Producer Aaron E. Lepsch (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support William Putman (NASA/GSFC): Lead Scientist Anton S. Darmenov (NASA/GSFC): Scientist Ellen T. Gray (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Narrator Music: Elapsing Time by Christian Telford [ASCAP], Robert Anthony Navarro [ASCAP]