Blowing in the wind: NASA video shows global view of atmosphere's swirls

- We often think of disasters like hurricanes and forest fires as isolated events, but a colorful new animation from NASA illustrates how everything that happens in our swirling atmosphere is connected.

The video combines NASA’s global satellite data with intricate supercomputer models to track the movement of three types of particles in our atmosphere: Dust, smoke, and sea salt.  By tracking those particles – which scientists call aerosols – it’s easy to see otherwise invisible things, like how the atmosphere roils and churns on a large scale.

It may look like a giant lava lamp, but NASA scientists say it’s one of the most detailed atmospheric analyses they’ve done.  

The animation starts in August, when the Atlantic hurricane season got very busy.  Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria stand out very clearly, thanks to the sea salt evaporating in the swirling storms.  

It’s also easy to see how dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa interacts with developing systems in the eastern Atlantic.  For example, the animation shows how dust initially pulled into Hurricane Irma gets washed from the air by the growing storm’s rains.

Meanwhile, smoke from forest fires in the Pacific Northwest can be seen drifting and blowing all the way across North America and even the north Atlantic.

“Large weather patterns can transport these particles long distances,” NASA scientists noted.  “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.”

Hurricane Ophelia made headlines late this summer when it turned the sky orange over Ireland. NASA’s video shows how that happened: The unusual storm pulled in dust from Africa and the sucked in smoke from wildfires in Portugal and sent it all swirling over the U.K.

Scientists say they hope the new visualization helps improve their understanding of global weather patterns, eventually leading to better weather forecasts.

LINK: Watch the video in high-def on YouTube

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