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.

The World’s Heat Map (also wind map)

Michael Data & Graphics, Interactive, Photo May 20, 2016

I used to awe at this genius’ work pulling off a live interactive map that shows the latest (not by minute though) winds blowing around the world. And there are actually more gems to be found here, when I read about India’s recent record breaking temperature of 51 C. Here below is in the middle of the night in Asia, when Beijing was at a cool 15.8C while most of India was approaching 40C.

The Temperature Map captured on at 3AM May 21, 2016 China local time

The Temperature Map captured on at 3AM May 21, 2016 China local time

For precise positioning of major cities, you can wikipedia your city of interest and pinpoint the location by modifying the URL’s location coordinates, such as “…loc=116.383333,39.916667”

For instance, if you are trying to find Beijing, you’d enter the above coordinates value at the end following “loc=” as you will find the coordinates of Beijing by clicking this on Beijing’s wikipedia page 39°55′N 116°23′E which leads to this GeoHack page for Beijing.


Web & Video: China Air Daily

Michael Data & Graphics, Film, Photo, Video December 1, 2015

Flying back between Berkeley, CA and Beijing, China on graduate school projects, an idea struck me to record air quality with a picture every day, initially out of a friend’s apartment window. Then that project grew and took roots at Asia Society and now China Air Daily tracks five cities in China and the U.S. on an hourly basis.

Here below are two videos about China’s notorious air pollution issue I produced with Emmy Award winning studio MediaStorm:


Here below is the homepage of the site, a visual record of daily air quality in China and the U.S., featuring Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, New York City and Phoenix:

pic chinaairdaily home

Homepage of China Air Daily, click/tap to visit full site

I write in The Atlantic: A Stunning Visualization of China’s Air Pollution

The debate over whose statistics are most “accurate” can be confusing — how to sort out truth from spin? That’s why a group of us at the Asia Society decided to launch China Air Daily, a website that provides up-to-date information on air pollution in the country’s largest urban sectors, and even compares them to major cities from elsewhere in the world.

I write in Foreign Policy: Watch China’s Silent Assassin in Action

For the past eight years in Beijing, as well as four years spent in other Chinese cities, I have recorded impressions of daily air quality by taking photographs from fixed points. I thought I had seen the worst smog a developing country had to offer — then came the so-called “Airpocalypse” of January 2014. Finally, in March 2014, the Chinese government declared an all-out “war against pollution.” For a few months, as my photo archive suggests, Beijing’s air quality appeared to improve. But this winter, it is getting bad once again:January 15 saw an AQI measurement near 500.

Forbes: How Dirty Are China’s Skies? A Daily Photo Archive Shows The Truth

Air quality improved after the Olympics, and there have been good days since, but why August was this bad is something of a mystery. Trying to get to the bottom of the air-quality-in-China issue is the work of China Air Daily, a web site produced by the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations. The site is produced by the journalist-programmer Michael Zhao. China Air Daily publishes near-hourly snapshots several times a day. You can see how blue it was for most of March 2011.

Forbes: Asia Society Has Opened Window on China’s Environment

One of its useful devices is the China Air Daily site, which allows Web users to track the sometimes awful state of smog in three Chinese metropolises, as well as two in the U.S.

Last but not least, I blog about the issue on and here are some slides from the blogging:

China Air Watch

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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U.S.-China Forum on the Arts & Culture

Michael Audio, Film, Photo, Video July 1, 2012

A delegation of outstanding American cultural figures including Meryl Streep and Yo-Yo Ma traveled to Beijing to take part in four days of unprecedented cultural exchange in 2011. The US-China Forum on the Arts and Culture organized performances, master classes and roundtables that showcased the best of American culture, while forging new opportunities for American artists to collaborate and converse with their Chinese peers, in fields including visual and performing arts, literature, and cuisine.

Here below is a highlight video from this trip, which I led the crew in shoot and production:


We also managed to place a video clip from the main performance on

pic nyt lil buck features a jook-dancing performance of Lil’ Buck and Yo-Yo Ma, clip/tap to watch