Using the OMPS (Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite) instrument aboard NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP satellite aerosols are detected and measured in terms of thickness and height of the atmospheric aerosol layer.
NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP satellite captured two recent images of the United States and both images show that the winds have changed yet again, blowing the smoke from western fires back to the East and crossing the continental U.S. Along with the smoke, small particles suspended in the air (aerosols) are also moved along the jet stream and bring hazardous air quality across the country. The image on the left shows the entire United States and the shroud of smoke that hangs over the majority of it. The image to the right shows the aerosols that accompany that smoke.
Aerosols are a mixture of small particles and chemicals produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials such as trees, grasses, peat, brush, etc. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot). The smaller the particles, the easier they are to be inhaled and absorbed into the lungs. From the EPA website: "The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death."
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Image via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center