On October 12, 2013 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over eastern China and captured this dramatic true-color image of a land covered by a pall-gray shroud of smoke and haze.
Near the center of the image, dense clusters of red hotspots cover much of the rich agricultural land in Henan and Anhui Provinces, while other clusters are seen in Hubei (to the south) and Hebei (north). In many locations, especially in the central region, streams of smoke pour from these areas, and are blown northwest by strong prevailing winds. These red hotspots mark areas where the thermal sensors on the MODIS instrument have detected increased temperatures. When combined with smoke, they mark actively burning fire.
The thickest smoke lies between the northern and central fire clusters, and obscures the ground. The large city of Beijing, located in the north central area of the image, is entirely obscured by the smoke, haze and fog, as is the municipality of Tianjin on the coast of Bohai Sea. Where clouds cover the image, they appear bright white in contrast to the smoke. In some areas, the high white clouds cast shadows on the smoke, indicating that the shroud lies underneath cloud height.
Eastern China has struggled with poor air quality for decades. Agricultural burning, coal-fired heat for home and industry, automobiles, coal-mine fires and other pollution combine with air inversions to create severe ground-level air pollution. Under such conditions, respiratory illnesses are common, and both human and animal health is compromised.
On October 22, Asia News reported that the Ministry of Environmental Protection released air quality data for the third quarter of 2013 (July – September). Of the 10 worse cities, 7 were in the Hebei province, one in Shandong province, one in Henan province and the municipality of Tianjin. All of those areas appear shrouded with smoke and haze in this image.