Satellite remote sensing provides a useful way to investigate the impact of intense local pollution sources, such as widespread wildfires or biomass burning, on regional air quality. This false-color image shows carbon monoxide plumes at an altitude of roughly 3 km (700 millibars) in the atmosphere over northwestern Africa and extending westward well out over the Atlantic Ocean. This image represents a composite of data collected from January 27 through February 2, 2003, by the Measurements Of Pollution In The Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. The gray areas show where no data were collected, either due to persistent cloud cover or gaps between viewing swaths.
Carbon monoxide is a good tracer of pollution since it is produced by incomplete combustion processes, such as those associated with electricity generation, petrochemical processing, and biomass burning.
Thousands of fires burning across northwestern and central Africa since November 2002 have been sending heavy smoke as well as high concentrations of carbon monoxide westward across the Atlantic. This Terra MOPITT scene shows CO measurements from Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2003.