The large fires currently burning in Western Canada and the Northwestern United States are producing a significant amount of air pollution, as indicated by the elevated levels of carbon monoxide over the region. This false-color image shows the concentrations of carbon monoxide at an altitude of roughly 3 km (700 millibars) in the atmosphere. These data were taken by the Measurements Of Pollution In The Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite for the period Aug. 1-7, 2003. The colors represent the mixing ratios of carbon monoxide in the air, given in parts per billion by volume. The gray areas in the image show where no data were collected, either due to persistent cloud cover or gaps between satellite viewing swaths.
Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete combustion during burning. It is important to scientists due to its impact on the chemistry in the lower atmosphere. Carbon monoxide is a good indicator of air pollution and its presence adversely affects the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself.
The regions of high carbon monoxide are observed downwind of the fires currently burning in Canada’s British Columbia (left) and Alberta (right) provinces, while across the border in the United States, intense plumes of carbon monoxide are being emitted from the fires burning in Idaho and Montana. Because carbon monoxide is persistent in the air for several weeks, it clearly shows the transport of pollution plumes from the region of the fires northeastwards over Canada.
Image courtesy the NCAR and University of Toronto MOPITT Teams