Traces of burning outline a map of human settlement and industry in a haunting graphic released by the data analysis startup Descartes Labs.
Silver patches and strands represent nitrogen dioxide emissions, a gas produced by combustion that contributes to acid rain, haze, and lung problems. While there are natural sources of nitrogen dioxide, people are major emitters, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fuel-burning cars, trucks, power plants, factories, and even lawn mowers and construction equipment. Forest fires and agricultural burning can, too. Laura Mazzaro, an atmospheric scientist and environmental engineer at Descartes, says "You're looking at a map where things are being burned."
The data comes from the Sentinel 5P satellite – a satellite launched in October 2017 that monitors the atmosphere. It's part of a family of satellites launched by the European Space Agency. Other satellites in the series look at things like water, ice, snow, ice, snow, and snow.
Descartes Labs released earlier in February, first reported by Axios. To make them, researchers at Descartes created a composite images of the Sentinel-5P satellite captured during August and September 2018, according to Tim Wallace, graphic design lead at Descartes. Cloudy days and low quality images were produced on a given day of those two months, "Wallace says.
Nitrogen dioxide does not survive long enough to produce it. Where are people are driving cars. But there are so some sources, Wallace says. "There are ship tracks, and industrial towns in the middle of nowhere," he explains.
The images are taken in the same vein.