Fantastic visualization of Earth’s atmosphere in 2017

How can you see the atmosphere? By tracking what is carried on the wind. Tiny aerosol particles such as smoke, dust, and sea salt are transported across the globe, making visible weather patterns and other normally invisible physical processes.

This visualization uses data from NASA satellites, combined with mathematical models in a computer simulation allow scientists to study the physical processes in our atmosphere. By following the sea salt that is evaporated from the ocean, you can see the storms of the 2017 hurricane season.

During the same time, large fires in the Pacific Northwest released smoke into the atmosphere. Large weather patterns can transport these particles long distances: in early September, you can see a line of smoke from Oregon and Washington, down the Great Plains, through the South, and across the Atlantic to England. Dust from the Sahara is also caught in storms sytems and moved from Africa to the Americas. Unlike the sea salt, however, the dust is removed from the center of the storm.

The dust particles are absorbed by cloud droplets and then washed out as it rains.

Advances in computing speed allow scientists to include more details of these physical processes in their simulations of how the aerosols interact with the storm systems. Supercomputing 2017 conference:

Credits: Matthew R. Radcliff (USRA): Lead Producer Aaron E. Lepsch (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support William Putman (NASA/GSFC): Lead Scientist Anton S. Darmenov (NASA/GSFC): Scientist Ellen T. Gray (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Narrator Music: Elapsing Time by Christian Telford [ASCAP], Robert Anthony Navarro [ASCAP]

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at:

h/t to WUWT reader Wim Rost

63 thoughts on “Fantastic visualization of Earth’s atmosphere in 2017

  1. I’m perplexed. I recall a science video (BBC?) claiming that dust from the Sahara was a major source of minerals for the Amazon rain forest but this simulation is showing very little if any of it crossing the equator and actually reaching the Amazon?

    • In order to see the entry of dust in Amazonia, the image would have to be larger and extend the neck further south. Only the west wind band and the path of the cyclones into the Caribbean and individual fish storms can be seen.

    • The Original Mike M November 19, 2017 at 9:14 am: “this simulation is showing very little if any of it crossing the equator”

      WR: ‘Season’ will play a role. This animation shows the period August 1st to Octobre 30th. During the next half year, all weather systems shift southward. It will be interesting to see the February – April version.

      Hopefully more of this amazing animations will be produced. The show us more than dust, salt an smoke. They show us our weather systems.

      Who can predict these weather systems 30 year from now, is able to predict climate.

      • Whoever thinks he can model this system is absolutely insane. And we’re seeing here only a fraction of the system’s variables. Humidity, pressure, temperature, elevation–none are shown. Whoever sets policy based on a putative model of this system should be locked up.

      • Agreed, jorgekafkazar and Bill. Even experts are easily taken in with pretty animated pictures that have the appearance of the “real thing”. And the visual certainly gets well funded.

        People can do the same thing with models of protein folding. To the human eye they may look convincing in most respects, but that does not mean they necessarily come up with the “correct” answer. Like climate models, they have to be constained from going off the rails by what the human believes to be a credible answer. In some cases this is already known, which helps enormously. Climate models do not even have this advantage.

      • @ Wim Röst

        Thank you. This is very interesting. I would like to request that you provide ‘quarterly updates’ here on WUWT. The fires in NW USA offer the ‘perfect fingerprint’ to bring the visual to light!

        A view across the Pacific would be great too!

      • By the way, I realize that I can download it myself from the NASA link but don’t know how to navigate (if possible) different perspectives or time frames other what the link shows.

        Anyway, WUWT is my daily viewing website and in 3 months probably will be lost in the nether reaches of my mind.

  2. What I found interesting are the little puffs of smoke each day from the southern states centered around LA and AL. Refineries?

      • If you’ve observed clouds forming, you’d see that they coincide with features of the landscape. A cloud can form, dissipate, and reform continuously over the same hill as saturated air strikes it, rises, condenses, rains, and moves on.

      • it is a “smoke” that obviously originates in forests, not in industrial centers or cities; just control your obsession about oil, it will turn you mad.

      • I have seen these form in the morning, about 7:00 am, when flying from city to city in the south. They occur over the cooling towers of the power plants, and over the city highrise cores themselves as the AC systems kick off to cool the buildings. Not smoke… condensation.

    • I don’t know if I saw the exact thing you are referring to, but I noticed that their algorithm has “sea salt” turning to “smoke” in several locations in the SE and NW. There may be some reaction of sea salt with the atmosphere over land that fools the sensors.

      I don’t think all the “smoke” is from fires.

    • I noticed the puffs of smoke and agree that they look like they happen each day in specific locations. I don’t think they are refineries because those run pretty much constantly. These “puffs” seem to be responses to demand. Could those locations correspond to major power plants? Could they occur each day as the air conditioning electricity demand during the day increase and kick on additional coal or non-nuclear power plant capacity that produced “smoke” as well as water vapor from their stacks? Do the “puffs” appear to follow heat waves across the South?

      • It is not “smoke”. You just knee-jerk claim it is. It is condensation from the humidity down here. You guys from dry climates always gripe about the humidity, but it’s the humidity which makes us look dark green from space. It is why we are a gigantic carbon sink. Instead of giving us left-handed insults you should be praising us. And btw, why would you assume it is smoke? Do you think we all have coal-burning stoves in our outhouses?

  3. Evaporation of sea salt from the ocean? I’m not afraid to display my ignorance by asking a dumb question, but . . .

      • Thanks, Sam, that’s what I thought. Presumably when it’s aloft, the water can evaporate from it, leaving aerosols of NaCl and other salts in the air.

      • When sleeping outside on the coast I always wake covered in salt, even when quite high up, like on a roof.

    • The oceans are seldom smooth so a lot of salt is blown into the atmosphere. It can travel much farther than most people realize. We were trying to track a ULV pesticide cloud in SW Florida with LIDAR. We had very high trade winds off the Atlantic crossing the state. We could not see the pesticide cloud until we used an algorithm to “subtract” the salt spray out of the imaging.

    • I lived in Inverness about 700 meters away from the firth and 70 meters above sea level. My windows kept fogging up with sea water. At first I had no idea what that stuff was and couldn’t believe it when I found out. There was no significant wave action or visible spray over the firth. I had to lick the glass to confirm it was salt. In retrospect, I don’t think it was impossible that the salty spray actually travelled 60 miles from the west coast, where vigorous surf is the norm and winter ferry sailings are cancelled every week due to high seas.

      I also noticed that strong westerlies carried a certain smell I have not sensed outside Scotland or England.

    • One of the latent damages from storms is from atmospheric salt, although in a hurricane sometimes it is difficult to determine where the atmosphere is. Even plankton can be carried in much lighter winds. After Harvey one of the tree ‘surgeons’ suffered rust problems in his equipment. South Texas from about 29° N to the south has a net evaporative loss, a serious problem especially due to strong onshore winds which drive an increasing windmill field.

  4. Let’s see, how might we trap some extra heat on the surface under all this swirling circulation? Not going to happen by CO2. The heat-engine nature of the atmosphere becomes very obvious in visualizations such as this.

  5. Reminds me of the novel title ‘Who Has Seen The Wind”. This is an excellent illustration of a ‘model’ simulation of the atmospheric forces we are discussing here day to day. Would be very cool to have a real time model-cast of this, being able to turn layers on such as smoke, sea salt, CO2, various pollutants etc, which would give perspective to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

    • If would add a movie making feature similar to you could make your own animations of most of those things.

  6. Is there some more coming?
    All I see is 180 degrees of the Northern Hemisphere.
    Would be interesting to see the patterns evolving from China, India, Australia.

    • And the forest fires in Chile last austral summer, rivaling those shown in this simulation for the PNW and CA. Mostly smoke from the fires in southern Chile blew north.

  7. Maybe if computing power increases enough, the models will be able to handle clouds.

    Better however just to take Gavin, Kevin and Phil’s supercomputers away from them and set them to practicing science, ie gathering actual observations rather than inventing “data”.

    • Your mention of fluid dynamics reminds me we haven’t seen anything of Bob Tisdale here lately. I would think this article might draw his valued commentary. This seems to support his writings well.

  8. Reminds me that laminar and turbulent flow of atmosphere can never be modeled over the multiple layers of same with the many eddies, down welling, up flows and cyclones and the corresponding pressure and temperature differentials. The best you guys are going to develop are Dimensionless Numbers applied to trends and history. Wake me up when the CO2 reaches 20,000 ppm.

    • …..”when the CO2 reaches 20,000 ppm…..Would the amount of atmospheric CO2 then be greater than the amount of atmospheric H2O? Just curious.

      • H2O varies from 40,000 ppm in the hot, moist tropics to 400 ppm or even less over the cold, dry polar deserts.

        Estimates of global average range from 30,000 to 10,000 ppm.

        CO2 has probably never been higher than 7000 ppm during the entire 541 million years of the Phanerozoic Era, even when much warmer than now. It has probably rarely been above 2000 ppm during the last two periods of the Paleozoic and all of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras.

        OTOH, it has rarely been lower than at present. Just during the glacial intervals of the Pleistocene Epoch and during the coldest part of the Carboniferous ice age. Maybe ten million years at most out of 541 million.

      • Depending upon time frame assumed, probably not even to 600 ppm, unfortunately for plants and the animals and fungi which depend upon them.

      • There the plants are not against. 2000 pm would give us trees of 100 meters height and 30 meters diameter and more. The plants and wildlife would literally explode and develop species we can not imagine at the moment. The foundation for new oil in several million years would be laid. Unfortunately, our supply of fossil fuels is far too limited to cause such a situation. So we have to settle for the meager remains of CO2 in the atmosphere millions of years ago. Maybe that’s right, we’re not herbivorous dinosaurs with 6 tons of food during the day.

  9. That’s a crazy amount of dust emanating from the Sahara! Too bad the animation shows only the northern hemisphere, but it’s still pretty cool.

  10. Nice video. And from Goddard-SFC-Maryland where NASA still does honest scientific work.

    – Sahara dust being washed out into the Atlantic brings life-giving mineral fertilization to the ocean. With this mineral fertilization, Phytoplankton can then bloom (in open waters where toxins are not concentrated) and suck vast amounts of CO2 into their skeletons, to then sink to the ocean floor when they die.

    And Speaking of fantastic visualizations of Earth from space:

    – NASA just successfully launched JPSS-1 early Saturday Am from Vandenberg AFB, California to its polar orbit. Should help bring more improvements to weather forecasting. Also coming up is the NASA-NOAA Ice-Sat2 in 2018.
    Great instruments both of them.

    Good weather and climate science is possible *IF** the corrosive, anti-science climate change alarmism at NCAR and GISS can get a stake driven through its collective heart. The money those two are wasting on junk climate GCMs is phenomenal and must end. Time to end US taxpayer financed charades at the IPCC.

  11. I am guessing that it is not an atmospheric simulation but a particules simulation based on the genuine observed atmospheric circulation… Again…how do we know how true is this? Nice pictures but where are observations compared to simulation? I saw the dust and the smoke in normandy where i live there is some truth in that .. but is saw SOME dust and all is about numbers not qualitative data.

    • particles can be seen form space, air movement cannot. The weatherman video can show movements when there are clouds, not when there no clouds. Same here, except they use salt, smoke and dust instead of clouds. And YOU couldn’t see that (as opposed to clouds you can see) of course, you’ll need satellite eyes.

      • it is not what i meant…i meant it is only a simulation about testing our knowledge of howp articules move in the air…we are not able to simulate an atmosphère fo a long peridod of time.
        It is a very nice pictures…how much is it accurate??

  12. Pretty pictures, yes, but valuable? Not very. Still, it’s a step in the right direction: pictures of our atmosphere showing how complex & interactive it is.

    Samples gathered from high altitude planes show about 40,000 tonnes of space dust gravitate to Earth each year. With volcanic activity building the Hawaiin Islands, etc, the Earth is growing & evolving all the time, as the Sun is evolving. Not shown.

    Of far greater importance are our oceans & their currents in the redistribution of the Sun’s heat around our planet: ie, our climate. Being a denser medium the oceans absorb about 22 times more heat than our atmosphere. Not shown. Can the oceans thus be said to be 22 times more important to our climate than the atmosphere?

    Still, small steps in the right direction.


    • jdseanjd November 20, 2017 at 12:24 pm: “Being a denser medium the oceans absorb about 22 times more heat than our atmosphere.”

      WR: jdseanjd, where is that number from: oceans absorb “22 times more heat than our atmosphere”?

      • Wim Rost Nov 20, 2017 at 4.03 pm:

        My source is Prof. Ian Plimer’s great book: Heaven and Earth global warming: the missing science, 2009.
        In the chapter on WATER, page 341 in the Quartet hardback edition I have:

        “The oceans transfer heat around the world.”
        “The oceans contain some 22 times more heat than the atmosphere. They, not the atmosphere, control the surface heat balance. However, we are bombarded with media opinion telling us exactly the reverse and that increases in atmospheric temperature increase ocean temperature.”

        A huge work of scholarship, this book is written in plain easy to understand English & provides over 2,200 references to peer-reviewed papers. I’d have paid double.

        Kind of my climate Bible.


        • @ Wim Rost, Nov 21, 2017 at 12.49 am.

          Surely to contain 22 times more heat than the atmosphere, the oceans first have to absorb that heat, from solar irradiance or undersea geothermal activity, the probable cause of El Nino events?

          Or am I missing something here?


  13. This is a step in the right direction. Now, if only we could coax them into dropping the computer simulations and simply using the empirical data, perhaps we’d have weather forecasting with some predictive value for a change. Bad theoretical habits die hard, though.

  14. Good to see that GISS does something in their studies of earths climate that is not pure propaganda. I don’t mind my tax dollars being used for things like this.

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