Beijing's appalling air pollution exposed by NASA satellites

Satellite images released by NASA reveal the full and appalling extent of the air pollution which afflicting large swathes of north-eastern China.

The images taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) fitted on NASA's Terra satellite show large parts of the Chinese capital Beijing and adjacent coastal city Tianjin blanketed in an opaque layer of white and grey smog.


The photos date from January 14 and January 3. On January 14 the air pollution sensors of the US Embassy to Beijing indicated that PM2.5 airborne particulate matter had reached hazardous levels, at 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The WTO has deemed 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air to be the safe threshold for PM2.5 airborne particles. Particles in the PM2.5 category pose a significant threat to human health, as they are small enough to be inhaled and lead to an increased incidence of heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illness.

Much of China's air pollution is the result of the country's heavy dependence upon coal to power its breakneck economic development. China is currently the world's number one importer of the solid fossil fuel.

The country's political leaders are nonetheless striving to expand the country's energy portfolio to include a great amount of nuclear power and renewables, in order to alleviate the severe environmental stress that coal-fueled power plants can create.

Visit NASA's Earth Observatory site