Satellite captures massive smoke and haze over china

China seems to be ground zero for air pollution these days. From NASA:

20141028-china[1]Smoke and haze hang over a large portion of eastern China in this image captured by the Aqua satellite on October 29, 2014.  China uses the method of “slash and burn” agriculture to rid their fields of leftover plants. Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality as seen in this image.

The U.S. Consulate in Beijing records an air quality index of 226 for October 29 putting it in the “Very Unhealthy” region.  Furthermore the following precautions are noted, “Significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; significant increase in respiratory effects in general population. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.”  Haze in this region tends to worsen in the fall and winter, when cold, heavy air traps pollutants near the surface.

The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot).

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on October 29,  2014. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner


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October 31, 2014 4:05 am

My father burnt fields for 40 years right in the thick of it, he is 88 now and fit as a fiddle.

Doug Allen
Reply to  richard
October 31, 2014 6:35 am

I ran 48 marathons in my 30’s and 40’s almost all well below 3 hours and ten years later couldn’t even run an easy workout with my running peer group. Cardiologists said blah, blah, blah you’re much healthier than average. Seven years ago I met an out-of-state cardiologist runner (at a party) whose race times in his 30’s and 40’s were almost exactly the same as mine and was still running fast at age 68. He immediately recognized that I definitely did have a significant cardio-pulmonary problem and suggested lung testing. I did some research and asked to be tested for the genetic disease called Alpha One COPD, a test almost never recommended by doctors. I have this rare genetic disease, my body making insufficient alpha1- proteinase inhibitor. For 5 years now, I have been getting weekly infusions of this protein my body doesn’t make enough of. I actually can jog very slowly now at age 74 including a half marathon last Saturday.
My point Richard is that lung function is quite variable, and a few smokers or people like your father can thrive in a smokey environment that would kill others. If I had been a smoker or frequently around burning fields, I’d be on oxygen now if not dead.

Reply to  Doug Allen
October 31, 2014 9:20 am

It was unfair of me to say that. Burning of the fields was banned but the benefits to the next years crops were noticeable. Probably more pesticides are used now it has stopped.

Leo G
Reply to  Doug Allen
October 31, 2014 6:10 pm

“I did some research and asked to be tested for the genetic disease called Alpha One COPD”

That would be the proteinase inhibitor deficiency gene (pi gene)- a co-dominant gene carried by 15% of Europeans. The deficiency refers to the combined effect of reduced serine concentration and reduced efficacy (due to misfolding) of of a 40 kdalton protein- which in molar terms is the major blood protein.
Most carriers are heterozygous with a partial deficiency, which rarely manifests as a clinical problem unless compounded with functional deficiencies of the protein (associated with chronic inflammatory conditions) or unless the deficiency involves serine pi levels less than a threshold (nominally 40% of Pi-MM level).
Unfortunately, that threshold level is often within the 2-SD range in European populations, so those with a deficiency sufficient to have clinical complications are often cleared by blood tests of pi concentration.

David, UK
Reply to  richard
October 31, 2014 9:33 am

Yeah, well my father (who is bigger than your father) burnt two fields for FIFTY years right in the thick of it, and has smoked 80 cigarettes a day since the age of 5, and is now 108 years old. Individual cases prove nothing. 😉

Reply to  David, UK
October 31, 2014 12:35 pm

How many bottles of whiskey did he drink every day?

Reply to  David, UK
November 1, 2014 1:46 pm

Bottle’s? Ha! MY granddad drank it straight from a barrel.

October 31, 2014 4:09 am


Steve Case
October 31, 2014 4:15 am

China will eventually have to address their air pollution problem.

M Courtney
Reply to  Steve Case
October 31, 2014 8:31 am

But Beijing, being east of the Takla Makan, may have a problem ever reducing particulate levels to healthy standards.
I propose fountains; lots and lots of huge, pretty fountains around the city.

David Chappell
Reply to  M Courtney
November 1, 2014 12:44 am

The fountains would be better in Takla Makan…

Reply to  Steve Case
October 31, 2014 2:25 pm

And according to our media, it’s all caused by coal-fired power stations.

Two Labs
Reply to  AP
November 2, 2014 6:42 am

And they’d be right. The smell of coke in the air is unmistakable.

October 31, 2014 4:17 am

after a good burnoff, we get rains, same as after bushfires.
better to burn in spring than autumn

David Chappell
Reply to  ozspeaksup
November 1, 2014 12:48 am

But you don’t get stubble in spring, which is what is being burnt now.

Björn from Sweden
October 31, 2014 4:19 am

how do you tell smog, smoke etc from clouds, fog ?

Reply to  Björn from Sweden
October 31, 2014 5:13 am

Smoke is pretty easy. Regional burns like this tends to look like a bluish-gray haze with indistinct margins. Like in this photo, there are often streamlines visible disclosing air flow in the area, look just north of Changchun among the red dots (fires).
Clouds vary a lot, just like the clouds you see from the ground. A ways west of the northern fires are some clouds (altocumulus?) showing shadows on the smoke. That’s a big clue – clouds high, smoke low. There’s more in the SW and along the eastern edge.
The white around the word Russia is snow, that helps show the ground relief, as the low valleys didn’t get snow or it melted, the taller peaks are above treeline and are the whitest. Ice in the Arctic can often be very difficult to distinguish from clouds, a time lapse movie would be helpful.

Billy Liar
Reply to  Ric Werme
October 31, 2014 1:40 pm

You only see the smoke when a kindly anti-cyclone clears the air of most of the clouds and produces a temperature inversion which traps the smoke in a thin layer, making it dense enough to be visible in photographs.

Bloke down the pub
October 31, 2014 4:30 am

‘The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials.’
So when you put your waste plastics out for recycling, remember that a lot of it will go to China for sorting and the unuseable portion will end up on open fires where they will add to this smog.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
October 31, 2014 9:12 pm

and burning plastic can produce TCDD, the dioxin contaminate in AGENT ORANGE and some other color agents. In fact, far more TCDD was produced by open burning as we used to do at dumps and landfills than ever was sprayed in Vietnam!! Breathing contaminated smoke is the more likely cause of high TCDD levels for most people. The military used, and still trains to use, burning to control its refuse in the field.

October 31, 2014 4:40 am

AGW is a function of Western narcissism — we’re the guilty ones, not anybody else. So, don’t pimp our guilt, dude.

Otter (ClimateOtter on Twitter)
Reply to  BallBounces
October 31, 2014 5:45 am

In the midst of reason, one lone voice of lunacy sings out.

Eric H
Reply to  Otter (ClimateOtter on Twitter)
October 31, 2014 9:17 am

I believe that was sarcasm, Otter…

mike restin
Reply to  BallBounces
October 31, 2014 11:54 am

Wrong answer.
The US and western governments through capitalism have provided the best way to feed and care for the people around the world and at the same time take control of pollution to protect our environment.
Places like India, Asia and Africa had a 5000 year head start and because of poor governance their cultures and societies are complete failures.
American Indians and Africans didn’t even have the wheel, or a nail or a screw.
To this day the despots, tyrants and murderers continue to destroy their own countries then call on America to save them from their own bad behavior.
I’ll never understand how you self loathing people just bitch about regular folks but ignore the big cars, galas, and jet setting of the rich politicians, movie stars and NGO leaders. Even in poor countries the elite get away with such a disgusting way of life well above their fellow countrymen.
When Al Gore’s footprint gets down to my level I’ll be happy to discuss trying to reduce pollution even more.
Until the UN, the global warming nuts, Sierra Club, WWF and Greenpiece hold meetings using Skype and not owning giant diesel guzzling ships and several properties I’ll always consider them just lying criminal assholes and I’ll never believe them or their message.
Until then they’re just the punchline to a joke on late night TV.
Western narcissism…get real.
Western culture is better than the barbarian cultures of the world.

tom s
Reply to  mike restin
November 1, 2014 7:05 am


Reply to  mike restin
November 2, 2014 7:58 pm

Self contradictory. Either success (eliteness) is progress or it isnt. What only rich jerks like Gore have today, food stamp families will have in thirty years. Unless slightly less rich fools rise up to destroy wealth in the name of fairness, a self serving name for greed and envy.

Col Klink
October 31, 2014 4:49 am

The US Consulate is taking air quality measurements? Why?
This type of pollution seems to be rather restricted in time and place. No mention of
how long a period the smoke stays around, but we’re not talking a constant source of air
particulates, which is a very, very different kettle of fish from daily 24/365 emissions,
As for China’s efforts at controlling what we consider typical, continuous air pollution,
they are light years ahead of the U.S. , in that they currently have under construction 27 nuclear plants or roughly 33 gigawatts of emission-free power, and hundreds more reactors planned. They can now
produce, in its entirety, a complete Gen 3+ version of Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, even at a larger size.
than available at present from Westinghouse. Long term they have plans for 500 additional reactors by mid-century and 1600 by the turn of the century. They also are importing LPG to run gas power plants instead of their (rather dirty) coal plants. Their coal plants produce a lot more emissions than ours do.
The Chinese govt is very much concerned with clearing the air, but is not concerned by CO2 emissions.

Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 5:38 am

Because they have to work there?
I know when I was in Beijing, the air quality was terrible with a constant thick haze in the air all week.

Richard T
Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 5:42 am

PRC spent the better part of two decades building coal fired power plants at the rate of one to two per week, most without scrubbers.

michael hart
Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 6:39 am

The Chinese govt is very much concerned with clearing the air, but is not concerned by CO2 emissions.

Which seems quite sensible and correct, IMO.
And they are also not much concerned by western imperialistic running-dog environmentalists telling them that they should stay poor.

Reply to  michael hart
October 31, 2014 8:49 am

It used to be regularly stated that pollution controls like catalytic converters transformed dangerous “pollutants” to harmless water vapor and — CO2. The Ministry of Propaganda is correcting that little oversight…

Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 11:56 am

Don’t get too excited. China continues to build coal fired plant, also.

Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 9:14 pm

I know NOTHINK!!
Umm, here on the Left Coast we receive measurable amounts of Chinese pollution.

Reply to  Col Klink
October 31, 2014 9:17 pm

Stick a sensor on a pole and put up the results on your consulate and embassy web pages. The locals all flock to you because you don’t adjust your sensor readings and the host nation government does. US increases trust and good feeling with the population for minimal cost. Last I checked the PRC government sensors stopped being such a joke because it’s embarrassing to be caught out by a foreign government this way but the US keeps the sensors up because they don’t really cost much and it keeps the PRC government honest.

October 31, 2014 4:57 am

In northern China rural homes use coal for heating and cooking. I have seen numbers that show that 30% of winter air pollution is from this source. This number maybe wrong or out of date but it is still a significant source of pollution in China. So building more efficient and cleaner coal fired electric plant to replace this use may reduce pollution. Real pollution unlike C02.
A similar situation exists in Africa with the use of wood and dung for fuel that cause indoor pollution with real health consequences.

Reply to  CNC
November 1, 2014 1:34 pm

Excellent slide show.
We used to use ‘Coalite’ [Coal Light, I guess] a ‘smokeless fuel, in the UK; ‘coke’ was an inaccurate synonym.
London – ‘The Smoke’ for so many years – was finally forced to act by the late 1952 Great Smog – the last, and worst, of the great ‘pea-soupers’, where the fog, or smog, obstructed vision and breathing. In the four-day great Smog, cinemas shut because the screen could not be seen from the back – indoors!
Estimates of the excess-deaths in those four days vary, but it is widely accepted that an extra 4,000 people died – in one city, in four days. Many others [Google suggests’100,000′] were adversely affected.
Coalite was an approved fuel within the meaning of the 1956 Clean Air Act, amnd looked quite like CNC’s slide 8 – Japanese Coal Briquettes Mametan 0.
If London could clean its air, I am sure China can.
Oh yes – diesel buses – London now has hybrid, part battery-driven buses, hydrogen buses [route RV 1 especially], plus, I believe some with energy recovery systems (flywheels?). We were on about five buses today [Went to see the Poppies at the Tower of London – see, for example –
(no fan of the Daily Mail, mind), and only one – a local service – was a full diesel-only job.

Reply to  CNC
November 1, 2014 2:20 pm

I do have problems with subordinate clauses (and brackets [and square brackets – and possibly other thingies – no?) which I should review and address.
Apologies – again!

October 31, 2014 5:09 am

OT but a last!
some legal action/inquiry this should have worldwide repercussions GISS, NASA, NOAAect as they are all using the SAme algorithm to lower past and heighten future temps.

October 31, 2014 5:23 am

They burn off the rice fields along I-55 in eastern Missouri and Arkansas every year. And where ever they grow sugar cane, be it Hawaii or Louisiana, or about anywhere else, the fields are burned off before harvest.
I really can’t see how you can save much doing something else. Without burning it would take mechanical means fueled by those evil fossil fuels generally to accomplish the necessary clearing/cleaning and there would be a loss of natural fertilizer/nutrients being returned to the field.

Reply to  rah
October 31, 2014 6:42 am

Before harvest?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  rogerknights
October 31, 2014 8:18 am

Sugar cane, yes, before harvest. Gets rid of the leaves, and doesn’t affect the canes. Done allmover the south end of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

Reply to  rogerknights
November 1, 2014 1:36 pm

Rud – thanks. Learned a bit there. Thanks!
Roger – thanks too for asking – I noted and was about to query. Appreciated both.
Thank you.

Reply to  rogerknights
November 1, 2014 6:21 pm

There is another very good reason for burning off cane fields before harvest in some places where the cane is still harvested by more manual means. Poisonous snakes!!!
Having been an SF soldier that has traipsed many different kinds of terrain I will tell you that the time poisonous snakes were the greatest concern and everyone was looking out for them was when walking through cane, or high grasses, and such. You just have no way of seeing them before your on them. I have always wondered if the Timber rattler got it’s nick name “cane break” because of that kind of thing.

October 31, 2014 5:57 am

It’s worse in Iceland. Sulphur Dioxide have hit levels of 21000 µg/m3.
At just 600 µg/m³ The blogger Rei developed breathing problems whose symptoms took a few days to go away. Acid gases can damage lung function permanently & render them the equivalent of a wrinkled collapsed balloon.

October 31, 2014 6:11 am

From the title line:
“Satellite captures masive smoke…”

Reply to  ATheoK
November 1, 2014 1:40 pm

Abbsolutelly hummungguss!
You better believe.
Yeah – I do do typos, too. Usually after the second wine [and fifteenth whine at the state of the nation [and our planet . . .]]!

Tim Naylor
October 31, 2014 6:39 am

I worked in China and Xian a few years back and the haze from pollution is nothing compared to anything we have in the States. Aside from field burn off, virtually all the stoves and heat in the country burn chunks of coal for energy. In the country you’d see the haze thicken like a heavy fog everyday before breakfast and before dinner. I didn’t even know a mountain range existed outside the town until we had a fortunate wind one day blowing the haze away. They have an epidemic of pulminory disease. One people say it’s only “regional” on the comments here, understand it’s a region that has three of some of their largest cities, encompassing over 40 million. This is the real type of environmental crisis we should focus on, not the phantom AGW.

Stephen Richards
October 31, 2014 7:48 am

I am convinced that forest fires raged out of control for long periods before man came along with no detrimental effect
October 31, 2014 at 5:57 am
It’s worse in Iceland. Sulphur Dioxide have hit levels of 21000 µg/m3.
That is something else. H²SO4 in the lungs is not to be sniffed at.

Reply to  Stephen Richards
October 31, 2014 12:06 pm

Indeed Stephen. I inhaled Nitric & Hydrofluoric acid gas (7% by volume) for 20 minutes some 12 years ago. I thought I’d got away with it, but in 2006 I was diagnosed with Emphysema & now walking into a stiff breeze is a trial. Having never smoked & having always taken exercise, I am reduced to shuffling about. It’s not what I wanted & Icelanders should not be lax in using gas masks either.

October 31, 2014 8:32 am

Perfect test case for aerosol effects because that level is about as high as anywhere has ever gotten. Is it cooling there, or warming less than surrounding areas? Where are the papers examining this, given the massive funding & the admitted uncertainty in the models?

October 31, 2014 9:37 am

I’m not sure why there’s reluctance to acknowledge water is the main visible constituent of smoke.
If you could remove the water from this picture, you would be unable to discern the particulate matter. Contrasted with the bright albedo of the clouds, its presence is apparent, but it would be lost against the darker background.
That is not to suggest at all that it is not noxious; just not very visible.

Bruce Cobb
October 31, 2014 10:41 am

China could definitely use an EPA. They are welcome to have ours.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
October 31, 2014 12:05 pm

It would be alright with me if they took John Beale and Lois Learner to one of their fine prisons in China…for the rest of their lives.

Chris B
October 31, 2014 1:31 pm

How much of the haze is wind blown dust?

Chris B
October 31, 2014 1:46 pm
October 31, 2014 3:00 pm

Smoke (aka creosote) was used to cure / treat TB in ‘the old days’. Smoke is used to preserve meats.
Fear of smoke is excessive. Yes, you ought not to get too much of it in your lifetime, but the practical use of plant smoke has saved a lot of lives. Both as “medicinal” prior to antibiotics and as food preservative.
There’s a difference between wood / plant smoke and synthetic chemical smoke, so please don’t rant at me about ‘other smokes’. Also note: Tobacco killed my Dad and likely my Mom, so don’t bother with some off base tobacco rant. This is entirely and only about the historical and valid uses of wood / plant smokes.
Larrea tridentata, or the so-called creosote bush, as named after its distinct creosote smell, was used by Native Americans in the Southwest as a treatment for many maladies. The Coahuilla Indians used the plant for intestinal complaints and tuberculosis. The Pima drank a decoction of the leaves as an emetic, and applied the boiled leaves as poultices to wounds or sores.[19] Papago Indians prepared it medicinally for stiff limbs, snake bites, and menstrual cramps.[20] Guaiacum, after which the guaiacol in creosote was named, was used by native Caribbean islanders to treat tropical diseases and later for syphilis.[21][22]
During antiquity, pitches and resins were used commonly as medicines. Pliny mentions a variety of tar-like substances being used as medicine, including cedria and pissinum.[23] Cedria was the pitch and resin of the cedar tree, being equivalent to the oil of tar and pyroligneous acid which are used in the first stage of distilling creosote.[24][25] He recommends cedria to ease the pain in a toothache, as an injection in the ear in case of hardness of hearing, to kill parasitic worms, as a preventative for impregnation, as a treatment for phthiriasis and porrigo, as an antidote for the poison of the sea hare, as a liniment for elephantiasis, and as an ointment to treat ulcers both on the skin and in the lungs.[25] He further speaks of cedria being used as the embalming agent for preparing mummies.[23] Pissinum was a tar water that was made by boiling cedria, spreading wool fleeces over the vessels to catch the steam, and then wringing them out.[26][27]
The Pharmacopeé of Lyons, published in 1786, says that cedar tree oil can induce vomiting, and suggests it helps medicate tumors and ulcers.[28][29] Physicians contemporary to the discovery of creosote recommended ointments and pills made from tar or pitch to treat skin diseases.[28] Tar water had been used as a folk remedy since the Middle Ages to treat affections like dyspepsia. Bishop Berkeley wrote several works on the medical virtues of tar water, including a philosophical work in 1744 titled Siris: a chain of philosophical reflexions and inquiries concerning the virtues of tar water, and divers other subjects connected together and arising one from another, and a poem where he praised its virtues.[30] Pyroligneous acid was also used at the time in a medicinal water called Aqua Binelli.[28]
Given this history, and the anti-septic properties known to creosote, it became popular among physicians in the 19th century. A dilution of creosote in water was sold in pharmacies as Aqua creosoti, as suggested by the previous use of pyroligneous acid. It was prescribed to quell the irritability of the stomach and bowels and detoxify, treat ulcers and abscesses, neutralize bad odors, and stimulate the mucous tissues of the mouth and throat.[31][32] Creosote in general was listed as an irritant, styptic, antiseptic, narcotic, and diuretic, and in small doses when taken internally as a sedative and anaesthetic. It was used to treat ulcers, and as a way to sterilize the tooth and deaden the pain in case of a tooth-ache.[31]

October 31, 2014 3:01 pm

to whatever extent China’s pollution problems are caused by rapid industrialisation, we’ve been this way before, in post-war Japan. face masks became de riguer. the rest of the world showed little concern &, today, MSM rarely, if ever, compares what’s happening in China today to what happened in Japan back then. no doubt China will slowly (and at great cost) deal with their own pollution:
Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
Although the first occurred in 1912, the other three occurred in the 1950s and 1960s…
In 1977, the Japanese government took on the task of cleaning Minamata Bay by vacuuming out 1.5 million cubic metres of methylmercury sludge from the bottom of the bay. Then in 1997, after fourteen years and $359 million, the Governor of Kumamoto prefecture deemed Minamata Bay safe…

October 31, 2014 3:20 pm

“The Chinese govt is very much concerned with clearing the air, but is not concerned by CO2 emissions.”
Quite correct. I have visited China every three years since 1985 and can say that Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, in particular, are much cleaner and less polluted that they used to be. The Chinese efforts are directed toward real problems not fantasies like CAGW.

Darwin Wyatt
October 31, 2014 9:01 pm

Global dimming anyone?

Mike McMillan
October 31, 2014 10:49 pm

The U.S. Consulate in Beijing takes air quality readings because the ones from the Chinese govt are not reliable, and the Chinese don’t report the
finer PM2.5 particulates.
This site keeps a running tab on particulates, temp, precip, and other air quality factors in Beijing.
For a live view of Beijing’s central business district, here’s a Dropcam (when it’s working):

October 31, 2014 10:55 pm

What can I say except that when Australia has a serious bout of bush fires, the sky over NZ looks a bit like your photograph of China. Sooner or later we are all going to have to breath our peck.

October 31, 2014 11:44 pm

Just came from Beijing after taking a train from Beijing to Harbin to Hohhot. Saw a small amount of burning of (corn) fields but the smoke was densest around the cities, especially Beijing. I am not buying the attribution of this mess to agricultural burning.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
November 1, 2014 10:15 am

I am in Beijing right now. The air quality is pretty good compared with other cities.
In Ulaanbaatar it is 500 micrograms per cubic metre tonight.
The PM 10 level tonight is 1220. On Sept 25 it peaked at 1450. The heating season is yet young. It will touch 4000 before Christmas.

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