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Global air pollution maps
September 23, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

NASA has some new maps showing air pollution around the world. It shows PM2.5, that is, Particulate Matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, small enough to get past normal bodily defenses and cause health problems.

FAQ's:

* "Wind lifts large amounts of mineral dust aloft in the Arabian and Saharan deserts."
* "In many heavily urbanized areas, such as eastern China and northern India, power plants and factories that burn coal lack filters and produce a steady stream of sulfate and soot particles."
* "Small particles can make their way deep into human lungs and some ultrafine particles can even enter the bloodstream. Once there, they can spark a whole range of diseases including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and bronchitis. The American Heart Association estimates that in the United States alone, PM2.5 air pollution spark some 60,000 deaths a year."
posted by stbalbach (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is that yellow spot in the middle of Australia?

And wow. China is screwed
posted by Windopaene at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2010


You can clearly see urban areas in the U.S. map.
posted by Xoebe at 4:35 PM on September 23, 2010


Desert.
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 4:39 PM on September 23, 2010


The American Heart Association estimates that in the United States alone, PM2.5 air pollution spark some 60,000 deaths a year.

In the San Bernardino area, where I lived for one horrible year, this was considered one of the leading causes of death -- elderly folks coming down with pneumonia caused in part by particulate matter in the lungs.

I moved to Seattle, where even at the airport, just walking out of the gate, I could seemingly taste how much cleaner the air was.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:45 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can clearly see urban areas in the U.S. map.

It's not that direct a connection between cities and PM2.5. For example, compare that image to artificial night lights over the US..

Related: environmental engineers capture "pristine" air above the remote Amazon Basin of Manaus, Brazil, for use as a baseline in air quality studies.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:48 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I moved to Seattle, where even at the airport, just walking out of the gate, I could seemingly taste how much cleaner the air was.

Sucker, that's just the artificial pine flavoring.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:49 PM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


PM2.5 is associated with smoke, while PM10 is associated more with mineral dust, although the dust component is also picked up with PM2.5. It would be interesting to view a similar map of PM10, or the difference between PM10 and PM2.5, as it would be good to isolate the dust component from combustion pollution.
posted by Jimbob at 4:56 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well this explains those random nosebleeds I was getting in Beijing...
posted by mullingitover at 4:56 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


This illustrates quite nicely why I left Beijing.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:57 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was puzzled as to why all of northern Africa has the same polluted atmosphere as heavily industrialized regions like eastern China. And then I realized that India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa are all down wind of China.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 6:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was puzzled as to why all of northern Africa has the same polluted atmosphere as heavily industrialized regions

See FAQ #1 above.

And then I realized that India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa are all down wind of China.

Chinese pollution blows towards the east, with the Jet Stream, and has been recorded in California. You can see it on the maps how the pollution shadows generally flow eastward.
posted by stbalbach at 6:15 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


wow, northern Africa is screwed by the Atomsphere and the southern part of Africa is also screwed with rampant spread of AIDS.
posted by tustinrick at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2010


Never trust air you can't see. How do you know it's actually there?
posted by Justinian at 7:43 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yay for Northern Canada! (takes deep breath of dark blue air)
posted by davey_darling at 8:35 PM on September 23, 2010


Lemurs have very strict emissions standards, apparently.
posted by Riptor at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the air in Beijing is... viscous...
posted by cmoj at 8:56 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking of man-made objects visible from space - the satellite photo of the haze over India and Bangladesh is depressing.
posted by akash at 9:53 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is that yellow spot in the middle of Australia?

Looks like Olympic Dam, a really freakingly large mine. World's biggest uranium mine, fourth biggest copper mine.
posted by wilful at 9:56 PM on September 23, 2010


What is that yellow spot in the middle of Australia?

Seems to be Lake Eyre. Dunno why it would be throwing up particulates. Maybe a dust storm off the salt/silt surface when it was dry, or a big fire fueled by dry vegetation a year or two after flooding?
posted by Ahab at 9:57 PM on September 23, 2010


Unfortunately, my town is much too small to show up on the map, though I'm sure that there is plenty of lovely PM in the smoke that hangs over town all heating season (which is usually at least part of every month except July). Please people, dry your wood before you burn it and get yourself a certified stove!
posted by ssg at 10:05 PM on September 23, 2010


Wow. I grew up in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles ten years ago; until I saw this map, I assumed that I'd made the mistake of moving somewhere with pollution much worse than where I grew up. Instead, it looks like there's at least some areas near Los Angeles with much better air quality than my home town.

now I do not want to know what my lungs look like; at the same time, I understand why my skin is in better condition and I almost never get sick any more now that I've moved
posted by davejay at 10:27 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I moved to Seattle, where even at the airport, just walking out of the gate, I could seemingly taste how much cleaner the air was.

NWesterners are spoiled. My in-laws live up near the Olympics and complain about the Seattle air when they visit. But if you look at the map, Seattle metro does show up as a cyan blip in an otherwise pristine NW region.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can clearly see urban areas rust belt and east coast cities in the U.S. map.

That's a map that makes me happy to live in the west.
posted by Forktine at 10:39 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


NWesterners are spoiled. My in-laws live up near the Olympics and complain about the Seattle air when they visit. But if you look at the map, Seattle metro does show up as a cyan blip in an otherwise pristine NW region.

I live in Victoria, at the tip of Vancouver Island, just across Juan de Fuca Strait from Port Angeles. The air quality is generally pretty good, because westerly winds blow everything over and up to Vancouver. Except in summer when the fucking cruise ships come. We have 200 visits of the goddamn things every year, and while in port each produces the equivalent emissions of a power plant servicing a town of 50,000. Plus there are the goddamn buses that ferry the passengers from the cruise ship terminal (about 4 blocks from my house) to the downtown tacky tourist area. Depressing.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 PM on September 23, 2010


I live in Baltimore.

(looks at map)

(slowly begins crying into his martini)
posted by CommonSense at 10:57 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am getting sick and tired of this worldwide conspiracy to eliminate NZ from the rest of the world. Its like we dont exist in maps anymore.

You may take our lines...but you will never take our FREEDOM!
posted by hal_c_on at 11:37 PM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is exactly why I have trouble breathing; Hong Kong has its good days but much of the time it's not that great.
posted by bwg at 2:23 AM on September 24, 2010


You may take our lines...but you will never take our FREEDOM!

Oh we will, we will... But only after we find your secret recipe for Chocolate Fish.
posted by Ahab at 2:34 AM on September 24, 2010


In view of my currently horrendous seasonal allergies, I was about to make some crack about how much of the stuff is pollen. Then I saw that airborne pollen is almost always bigger than 2.5 microns.
posted by exogenous at 6:59 AM on September 24, 2010


And wow. China is screwed

It almost appears like China is on fire and there's a huge stretch of smoke being carried by wind currents towards the Atlantic ocean.
posted by samsara at 7:22 AM on September 24, 2010


When looking at the maps, keep the scales in mind. The color coding on the world map goes from 0 (blue) to 80 (dark blood red), while the US map uses the same colors but only goes from 0 to 20. I initially had them up next to each other and thought that New Jersey was on par with Beijing. Not quite.

From the easily-visible highway corridors on the US map (you can see I-91 running right up the Connecticut River valley and I-87 running up through NY state) it would seem as though a lot of the US pollution is coming from vehicles, and that essentially it's a function of population density more than anything else. Maybe some of the big spots out in the midwest are industrial in origin, though.

If you want to live in an East Coast city, Boston is looking pretty good. The rest of the BAMA / Sprawl axis, not so much.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:49 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, it looks like lots of western Europe actually has worse are than most of the US? That's a bit surprising, to me.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:18 PM on September 26, 2010


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