John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The disaster has sent a noxious plume floating over the sea.
From the ground, the deadly blast on Wednesday at a Chinese warehouse for hazardous chemicals looked like nuclear armageddon. From space, the disaster remains visible in the form of a nasty, brownish vapor ghosting across the Bohai Sea.
NASA’s Terra satellite picked up on the escaping cloud on Thursday, the same day Chinese President Xi Jinping swore to investigate the ground-shaking eruption in Tianjin. (The latest casualty count is more than 50 dead and hundreds in the hospital.) “The source of the smoke appears to be industrial fires associated with two massive explosions” at the Tianjin port, writes the space agency.
Later that afternoon, the Aqua satellite passed over the area and captured the cloud farther southeast. The trails of gray smoke in both images probably originated from wildfires, says NASA:
Japan’s Himawari-8 weather satellite also observed the movement of the mud-colored miasma:
The Chinese authorities are still trying to figure out what caused the blast. There is reportedly a “chemical odor” lingering in the air, and military materials specialists are working to remove hazardous substances like sodium cyanide from the scene, according to the BBC.