In Pasadena, JPL Carefully Tracks the Carbon Monoxide Plume Spewed by the Amazon Fires

Published : Monday, August 26, 2019 | 4:46 AM

This time series shows carbon monoxide associated with fires from the Amazon region in Brazil from Aug. 8-22, 2019. Made with data collected from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA's Aqua satellite, the images map carbon monoxide at approximately 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) altitude. Each "day" in the series is made by averaging three day's-worth of measurements. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From on high, Jet Propulsion Laboratory is watching the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

New data from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument, which JPL operates and manages for the space agency, shows the movement high in the atmosphere of carbon monoxide associated with the thousands of fires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

World leaders have taken notice of the fires, with many criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for allowing miners, loggers and farmers to cut trees even in the protected areas, leading to rising deforestation, which experts say is to blame for the spread of fires in the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

Bolsonaro has responded by mobilizing the armed forces to help put out the fires. Brazil’s federal police agency has also vowed to investigate how the fires started and prosecute those who may have intentionally started the conflagration.

JPL scientists have published a time series that maps carbon monoxide at an altitude of 18,000 feet between August 8 and 22. The time series was based on data collected by the AIRS instrument that’s onboard the Aqua satellite.

As the series progresses, the carbon monoxide plume grows in the northwest Amazon region then drifts in a more concentrated plume toward the southeastern part of the country, JPL said.

Each “day” in the series is made by averaging three days’ worth of measurements, a technique used to eliminate data gaps. In the time series, green indicates concentrations of carbon monoxide at approximately 100 parts per billion by volume (ppbv), yellow at about 120 ppbv, and dark red at about 160 ppbv. Local values can be significantly higher.

Carbon monoxide is a pollutant that can travel large distances and can persist in the atmosphere for about a month. At the high altitude mapped in the JPL images, the gas has little effect on the air people breathe, but strong winds can carry it downward to where it can significantly impact air quality.

Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and climate change, JPL said.

Using AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), JPL scientists can sense emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth’s weather and climate.

With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the instruments at JPL create a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations and many other atmospheric phenomena.

In the United States, President Donald Trump said he has spoken to Bolsonaro and had offered to help in containing the fires.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”  Trump wrote on Twitter.

For more information about the AIRS and AMSU instruments, both managed by JPL in Pasadena, visit
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