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Atmospheric Composition

From tracking the air-quality impacts of wildfires to monitoring the size of the ozone hole, satellites measure many chemical properties of Earth’s atmosphere.

From space, we can understand fires in ways that are impossible from the ground. Earth-observing satellites capture the significant impact of fires on our planet. In this animation of fires around the globe in 2002, each red dot marks a new fire. Dots change color to yellow after a few days and to black when fires burn out. From brush fires in Africa to forest fires in North America, satellites are locating every significant fire on Earth to within one kilometer. In the summer and fall burning seasons, particularly destructive fires occurred in Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the NASA satellite acquired the data for these images, which show changes in smoke plumes from the fire. Images from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites have become a regular part of the National Interagency Fire Center’s firefighting toolkit. The images help the Center track fires on a daily basis and are used in allocating precious firefighting resources.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Daily actual lightning measurements from the Lightning Imaging Sensor on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) for the period from April 1, 1998, through April 29, 1998. Lightning is a brief but intense electrical discharge between positive and negative regions of a thunderstorm, causing changes in atmospheric chemistry. The Lightning Imaging Sensor was designed to study the distribution and variability of total lightning on a global basis. This animation shows the daily concentration of lightning flashes-from a global view, followed by regional views for North America, North and South America, and Africa.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Side-by-side globes showing Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) measurements of ozone and chlorine monoxide over Antarctica from 8/12/93 to 9/17/93.

MLS measures microwave emission from ozone and chlorine monoxide, a major ozone destroying radical. Right after the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was launched, MLS began to measure large concentrations of chlorine monoxide over the South Pole. These dramatic images clearly showed the extent of the south polar ozone destruction and confirmed the connection between man-made chlorine and the formation to the Antarctic ozone hole. Why is so much chlorine monoxide found over the Antarctic? UARS measurements have confirmed that chlorofluorocarbons enter the stratosphere in the tropics. As they rise above the ozone layer, ultraviolet molecules release chlorine, which then can react with methane to form hydrogen chloride. Chlorine can also react with ozone, forming the radical chlorine monoxide. Chlorine monoxide then combines with the radical nitrogen dioxide to form stable chlorine nitrate. Chlorine nitrate and hydrogen chloride are called reservoir gases for the chlorine radical. These reservoir gases usually contain more than ninety percent of the chlorine in the lower stratosphere.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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