The Eight Continental Scale Aerosol Plumes

Apparitions of eight continental scale aerosol plumes occur each year across the World in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia covering parts of the tropics and northern sub-tropics. They can be seen in the NASA aerosol images for January 2007 and September 2006 from the Terra satellite and the NASA Giovanni data distribution system. Most plumes exist for only a few months in the same season each year whilst the East Asian Plume is visible all year. These plumes change the major atmospheric circulation systems, the Hadley and Walker Cells, which: alters the hydrologic cycle creating drought and floods; and creates blocking high pressure systems in the higher latitudes and, as the plumes have only existed in their current form for about 60 years, climate change.

One plume, the south east Asian plume shown in the NASA image below, is the sole cause of El Niño / Southern Oscillation events as my paper delivered at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in December 2015 shows. As it is well known that El Niño events raise the global temperature by 1ºC to 2ºC this means that this plume rather than contributing to cooling the World as is generally believed actually warms the planet.

Aerosols are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as:

“Aerosols A collection of airborne solid or liquid particles, with a typical size between 0.01 and 10 μm that reside in the atmosphere for at least several hours. Aerosols may be of either natural or anthropogenic origin. Aerosols may influence climate in several ways: directly through scattering and absorbing radiation and indirectly by acting as cloud condensation nuclei or modifying the optical properties and lifetime of clouds.”

Natural aerosol sources include: volcanic eruptions (tephra and sulphate aerosols), deserts (dust) and the oceans (sea salt which remains in the atmosphere after the water evaporates from spray lifted from wave tops).

Anthropogenic aerosol sources include: fire (soot (black and organic carbon) from broad acre land clearing, agriculture and cooking), industrial pollution (sulphate aerosols and particulates) and transport.

For more information on aerosols visit:

NASA aerosol fact sheet

NASA video “Paint by Particle”

The video is especially interesting as it shows a global view of aerosols and how they are transported by the major wind systems.

The NASA Giovanni image below from the Terra satellite shows the October 2006 extreme apparition of the south east Asian plume which coincided with the worst of the Millennium Drought in south eastern Australia. NASA were kind enough to include it in at No. 4 in the inaugural NASA Giovanni Image Hall of Fame when I submitted it.