Carbon Monoxide from the California Wildfires

Caitlin Dempsey


As wildfires burn in California, carbon monoxide is rising high up into the atmosphere where NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), aboard the Aqua satellite, is capturing readings.

Carbon monoxide is released into the atmosphere along with ash and smoke when fires burn vegetation, structures, and other inflammable objects. Carbon monoxide can last up to a month and can travel long distances.

The visualization below, created by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), shows carbon monoxide being carried by the jet stream eastward across the United States and out over the Atlantic Ocean between September 6 and 14, 2020.

Mapping out carbon monoxide 3 miles (5 kilometers) up in the atmosphere, the areas with the highest levels of carbon monoxide (greater than 350 parts per billion by volume (ppbv)) are shown in reds and oranges. Measurements between  30 and 50 ppbv are shown in shades of yellow and green.

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While carbon monoxide found higher up in the atmosphere don’t pose a risk to humans, winds can carry the gas back down towards the Earth, affecting air quality.

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Lee, J. J., & O’Neill, I. J. (2020, September 14). NASA monitors carbon monoxide from California wildfires. NASA.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.