11/17/2012 12:57 am ET

'Paint By Particle' NASA Atmosphere Simulation Illustrates Global Aerosol Movement (VIDEO)

Dust storms might not seem so beautiful when you're caught in the middle of one, but as the video above shows, great data visualization can make them a thing of beauty.

The video depicts a simulation, made by researchers at NASA's Goddard Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, which assigned colors to different kinds of particulate matter. The result is a swirling, color-coded model of the Earth's atmosphere from August 2006 to April 2007.

In the simulation, "red" dust, "blue" sea salt, "white" sulphate, and "green" carbon particles are dispersed by wind in vast quantities around the world. Simulations like this one allow scientists to better understand how these tiny particulates, called aerosols, travel in the atmosphere and influence weather and climate.

The patterns in the video trace the origins of particulate matter. For example, sulphates emanate from two main sources: volcanoes and fossil fuel emissions over Asia, Europe and the United States. The biggest source of black and organic carbon in this time period was "biomass burning" in South America, according to NASA.

This isn't the first time that the team at the Goddard Flight Center has put together an eye-catching teaching tool. Earlier this year, NASA released "Perpetual Ocean," an animation that captured global current whorls reminiscent of Van Gogh's "Starry Night."



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