Hurricane Harvey as a ball of swirling sea salt. Hurricane Irma scooping up the sands of the Sahara. Hurricane Ophelia, bizarrely, taking smoke from Portugal and pulling it up to the coast of Ireland.
A new visualization from NASA shows the hurricanes from 2017 season from a new perspective — that is, their impact on particles carried in the wind.
The video pulls from satellite imagery and computer models to track how aerosols are affected by hurricanes.
Sea salt gets lifted from the ocean into the atmosphere by powerful winds, NASA says, while smoke is released by wildfires and dust kicked up from deserts. Ultimately, they get caught up in clouds and washed out in rain.
Supercomputer simulations allow NASA to show what that process looks like, as a way of making wind visible.
“The first thing that is noticeable is how far the particles can travel,” NASA writes. “Smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest gets caught in a weather pattern and pulled all the way across the US and over to Europe. Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa and travel across the Atlantic to make landfall in the United States. Dust from the Sahara is blown into the Gulf of Mexico. To understand the impacts of aerosols, scientists need to study the process as a global system.”