China's record-level air pollution, as seen from space

beijing smog nasa photos

NASA's Earth Observatory this week released startling before-and-after photos of northeastern China, where residents in Beijing and other cities have been suffering from suffocating levels of smog and air pollution. The satellite images, embedded below, were taken from the same position in space, 11 days apart; the top photo was captured on January 14th, the bottom on January 3rd.

As the images make clear, Beijing has seen increased haze, cloud, and fog coverage over this period, though these formations are far from typical. NASA notes that the region's clouds and fog "have a tinge of gray or yellow from the air pollution," and that even cloudless areas captured on January 14th were blanketed in brown and gray smog, rendering cityscapes all but invisible from space. (For a better before-and-after visualization, see NASA's image comparison tool here.)



Perhaps most terrifying, though, is the fact that NASA's images weren't even taken at the height of China's smog crisis. When the January 14th photo was captured, Beijing's air quality index (AQI) stood at 341 — well above the 300 AQI threshold at which air is considered to be hazardous to all humans, but far below the city's high point. Conditions reached a nadir, in fact, on January 12th, when the AQI in Beijing reached a staggering 775. According to independent air quality monitors at the US Embassy, PM2.5 particle pollution readings in Beijing over the weekend were literally "beyond index."

In the past, the Chinese government has been reluctant to even acknowledge its air pollution problem; authorities only began releasing data on dangerous pollutants early last year. This crisis, however, has forced the government to take action, ordering factories to reduce emissions and spraying water at industrial buildings to help contain the haze that has engulfed the region. Schools, meanwhile, were ordered to suspend outdoor activities, as the government urged citizens to "take measures to protect their health."


The Verge
Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new Verge username and password

As part of the new Verge launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to Verge going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new Verge username and password

As part of the new Verge launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to Verge going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.



Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.