Although the large fires that ravaged Southern California in late October 2003 are now under control, they can be blamed for the polluted air that is spreading over the Western States and into the Pacific Ocean. In addition to ash and smoke, the fires released carbon monoxide into the atmosphere as they burned. This false-color image shows the atmospheric column of carbon monoxide, with yellow and red indicating high levels of pollution. (The gray areas show where no data were taken, likely due to cloud cover.) The data were taken by the Measurements Of Pollution In The Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite for the period October 26-31, 2003.
Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete combustion during burning processes, and it is important due to its impact on chemistry in the lower atmosphere. It is a good indicator of atmospheric pollution, and its presence adversely affects the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself. Because carbon monoxide persists for several weeks, the pollution can travel thousands of miles downwind of the fires. The California fires provide an example of how intense local sources of air pollution can impact air quality on a global scale.
Image courtesy the NCAR and University of Toronto MOPITT Teams