air quality

Red Alert for Beijing Air Looks More Like Orange on NASA Map

Michael Animation, Data & Graphics, Photo December 23, 2016


Smog was particularly bad in cities like Beijing, which declared a five-day pollution “red alert” on December 16. The Chinese capital reached dangerous levels of more than 400 micrograms per cubic meter. In Shijiazhuang, capital of the Hebei province, airborne pollutants surpassed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines by 100 times on December 19. (A safe level is 10-25 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5, according to the WHO.)

Fine, airborne particulate matter (PM) that is smaller than 2.5 microns (about one thirtieth the width of a human hair) can cause lung damage. Industrial practices like fossil fuel burning and agricultural fires produce most PM2.5aerosol particles. Despite efforts to curb these emissions, China continues to struggle with its air quality.

From space, the smog appears gray. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a natural-color image (top) of northeastern China on December 22, 2016. Heavy, gray smog shrouds parts of the country, while the brightest, whiter areas are likely clouds or fog. The second image shows the severity of haze as measured by satellite, with deepest reds indicating the most affected areas. The map is based on MODIS measurements of aerosol optical depth—how much sunlight the aerosol particles prevent from reaching the ground.

For full NASA post and interactive slider image tap here.

Case Study: Air Pollution Visualized, Daily

Michael Animation, Data & Graphics, Photo, Video March 8, 2015

It all started in the lead up to the Olympic Games in 2008, I had a tickling idea to start paying attention to Beijing’s air pollution (video I co-produced). So I asked a friend whose apartment window has an open view over the skyline. I asked a favor to take a picture a day, if possible. And that project kept going for more than eight years. If you haven’t been to China, or smelled the lung-penetrating air or coughed it out while there, you have no idea how bad the air quality is. But just look at this below, one view from the exactly same angle but on two days.

Two days in Beijing with air quality between night and day [Pity that the scent cannot be reproduced here]

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