Haze Smothers Northern India


Earth-observing satellites capture smoke plumes sweeping through India.

Hazy skies are a common occurrence over several states in northern India in November. After crops are harvested, winds often spread a river of smoke across much of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

November 2019 was no exception. Smoke-filled skies led to hazardous air quality in many cities, hundreds of flight cancellations and delays, widespread school closures, and a two-week driving ban in Delhi.

While industrial pollution and dust can contribute to the haze, most of it comes from crop-burning—especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana, where rice and wheat are widely grown. Burning typically peaks during the first week of November, a time when many farmers set fire to leftover rice stalks and straw after harvest, a practice known as stubble or paddy burning. The burning often coincides with falling temperatures and slow wind speeds, meteorological conditions that can lead to temperature inversions, which trap smoke in place.

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Image via NASA Earth Observatory