Mesmerizing NASA video shows extent of wildfire smoke over Northwest this summer

Photo: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

It's one thing to just take a picture of the planet, but NASA has put together a new video that showcases some of what you might not see in those photos.

The visualization uses data from NASA satellites combined with knowledge of physics and meteorology to track three aerosols: dust, smoke, and sea salt, the agency's Yvette Smith wrote.

"Sea salt, shown here in blue, is picked up by winds passing over the ocean. As tropical storms and hurricanes form, the salt particles are concentrated into the spiraling shape we all recognize," Smith said. "With their movements, we can follow the formation of Hurricane Irma and see the dust from the Sahara, shown in tan, get washed out of the storm center by the rain."

You'll also note the extensive amount of smoke in the Pacific Northwest from this summer's wildfires.

But pay close attention to Hurricane Ophelia on the animation, which eventually made landfall in Ireland and the U.K. and brought an orange haze to the skies of London.

"Hurricane Ophelia was very unusual," Smith wrote. "It headed northeast, pulling in Saharan dust and smoke from wildfires in Portugal, carrying both to Ireland and the UK... This aerosol interaction was very different from other storms of the season."

Smith says by using these mathematical models to represent nature, they can separate the system into component parts and better understand the underlying physics of each.

"Today's research improves next year's weather forecasting ability," she wrote. "As computing speed continues to increase, scientists will be able to bring more scientific details into the simulations, giving us a deeper understanding of our home planet."

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