Dust covered northern China in the last week of March during some of the worst dust storms to hit the region in a decade. The dust obscuring Chinas Inner Mongolian and Shanxi Provinces on March 24, 2002, is compared with a relatively clear day (October 31, 2001) in these images from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometers vertical-viewing (nadir) camera aboard NASAs Terra satellite. Each image represents an area of about 380 by 630 kilometers (236 by 391 miles).
In the image from late March, shown on the right, wave patterns in the yellowish cloud liken the storm to an airborne ocean of dust. The veil of particulates obscures features on the surface north of the Yellow River (visible in the lower left). The area shown lies near the edge of the Gobi desert, a few hundred kilometers, or miles, west of Beijing. Dust originates from the desert and travels east across northern China toward the Pacific Ocean. For especially severe storms, fine particles can travel as far as North America.
The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, built and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is one of five Earth-observing instruments aboard the Terra satellite, launched in December 1999. The instrument acquires images of Earth at nine angles simultaneously, using nine separate cameras pointed forward, downward and backward along its flight path. The change in reflection at different view angles affords the means to distinguish different types of atmospheric particles, cloud forms and land surface covers.
March often brings an increase in dust storms to East Asia, and 2008 proved no exception. In early March 2008, the characteristic “yellow dust” from the Gobi Desert blew eastward over the Beijing region, the Yellow Sea, and North and South Korea.