China’s pollution from space

How bad is the air in China? NASA released this image today, showing the pollution from space.


At the time that this Jan. 14 image was taken by satellite, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Fine, airborne particulate matter (PM) that is smaller than 2.5 microns (about one thirtieth the width of a human hair) is considered dangerous because it is small enough to enter the passages of the human lungs. Most PM2.5 aerosol particles come from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass (wood fires and agricultural burning). The World Health Organization considers PM2.5 to be safe when it is below 25.

Also at the time of the image, the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing was 341. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. AQI below 50 is considered good. On January 12, the peak of the current air crisis, AQI was 775 the U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor–off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale–and PM2.5 was 886 micrograms per cubic meter.

The close-up is pretty impressive, too (Photo: Getty Images)


Can it affect the U.S.? Yes, in about five days according to one expert.

Kim Prather, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told CBS a year ago that the more pollution from China, the less precipitation in the U.S.

  • Tim

    Those are some very sobering pictures right there, both the satellite view and the cityscape.

    On a tangent, though, why can’t we build skyscrapers like that in the U.S.? I don’t see why other parts of the world have to have all the cool modern architecture

  • Bob Moffitt

    When smog can be seen from high in space, it’s clearly a threat to the human race.

    You think their air is much worse then ours,

    but what’s that coming from all OUR cars?

    Dogrel aside, “worse case” senarios like China’s current air pollution problems give us an idea what our country would be like without the Clean Air Act, the EPA, and the many organizations, public and private, that work to keep our air breathable.

  • Jeff

    I flew into Beijing at night around 10 years ago. As I was driving away from the airport I thought there must have been huge forest fires in the area because of the haze and smell in the air. There weren’t -itI was just the smog. I was there for 10 days. It was never sunny. There was always a haze, like here when you think it is about to rain. When I blew my nose, what came out was black. After two days I stopped smelling it, though. Pretty scary. And certainly different from the pollution we have here. Many people were burning cheap coal in open fires in their homes for heat – no pollution control at all.