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Beijing's Pollution, Seen From Space In Before And After Photos

Posted: January 15, 2013

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Pollution around Beijing has been stifling for the past few days. NASA has released a pair of satellite images, showing the extent of the smog from space and how the air has changed in the past couple weeks.

Satellite imagery of Beijing and the surrounding areas, captured on Jan. 14, 2013.
This combination of photos shows (left) the Beijing skyline during severe pollution Monday, and the same view (right) taken during clear weather on Feb. 4, 2012.

This combination of photos shows (left) the Beijing skyline during severe pollution Monday, and the same view (right) taken during clear weather on Feb. 4, 2012. Ed Jones

We wrote earlier this week on the stifling pollution in Beijing that's being called "airpocalypse." According to an air monitoring station located at the U.S. Embassy there, particulate pollution was literally off the charts — with readings well into the 700s on a 0-500 scale.

NPR's Louisa Lim reported from Beijing that the smog "has affected more than 30 cities in China, leading even the official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, to ask plaintively: 'How can we get out of this suffocating siege of pollution?' " As Louisa added:

"China is choking on its own breakneck development, with thousands of new cars taking to the road every day. This year, the pollution has been exacerbated by weather patterns, combined with an unusually cold spell."

" 'In the winter, we have to burn more coal to get heating,' says Zhou Rong of Greenpeace. She says around 50 percent of Beijing's air pollution is historically due to coal-fired power stations. 'Another reason is the weather pattern makes the whole atmosphere very, very stable, and so all the air pollution accumulates down to the ground, so we are getting higher and higher air pollution.' "

Photographers have captured striking sets of smog- and smog-free photos of the Beijing skyline.

But what does it look like from space?

NASA's Earth Observatory released a pair of satellite images today that show Beijing and the surrounding areas on Monday and 11 days earlier, on Jan. 3.

NASA explains what seen on Monday's image:

"The brightest areas tend to be clouds or fog, which have a tinge of gray or yellow from the air pollution. Other cloud-free areas have a pall of gray and brown smog that mostly blots out the cities below. In areas where the ground is visible, some of the landscape is covered with lingering snow from storms in recent weeks."

At the time the image was captured, NASA reports, the air quality index in Beijing was 341. Levels above 300 are considered "Hazardous." The embassy is posting real-time updates of the air quality index on its website and also on the BeijingAir Twitter feed.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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