The Pollution In North India Is So Bad It’s Visible From Outer Space

You’d wish that this is one of those Diwali hoaxes in which satellite photos appear to show the Indian subcontinent lit up in celebration on the festival of lights, but this one is painfully real. NASA research shows that north India is covered with a thick smog post monsoons which is actually visible from outer space.

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Satellite image of haze over the Indo-Gangetic Plain on Jan. 3, 2016. Source: Nasa

“During the post-monsoon season, the Indo-Gangetic plain is one of the most heavily polluted regions”, says Pawan Gupta, a research scientist. This haze is contributed by the millions of vehicles that let out fumes in the area, and burning of vegetation by farmers. All this means that there’s 10 times more sunlight blocked over these areas, and that shows up on maps.

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MODIS Aerosol Optical Depth. Source: Pawan Gupta/USRA/GESTAR/NASA

The whole area over north India is seen to have high levels of pollution. The arc stretches all the way from Delhi in the north and goes across the Indo-Gangetic plain. This is among the most densely populated areas in the world and covers most of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. And things aren’t helped by dust billowing through the area from the Thar desert in the west.

Indian states, of course, have been trying several ways to cut down on their pollution. Delhi has made CNG compulsory for autos, and wants to make it compulsory for taxis. The Delhi metro has taken many cars off the streets, and new initiatives like electric scooters are expected to help further. But at times one needs to step back and realize how big the problem really is – and there’s nothing quite like seeing a big red streak across a map.