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WATCH: Animation of Satellite Images Shows Smoke Plume From Mammoth Explosions in Tianjin, China

ImaGeo iconImaGeoBy Tom YulsmanAugust 14, 2015 8:19 PM


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A animation of Himawari-8 satellite true-color images showing the dark smoke plume from the explosions in Tianjin, China. (Source: Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch, NOAA/NESDIS) Cameras are everywhere now. So it's no surprise that the mammoth explosions in Tianjin, China, and the devastation they wrought, have been documented in grim detail — from the blinding flashes and fireballs, to a poor soul blown away on camera at the entrance to a building, to astonishingly detailed before and after views of the site captured by satellite. I'm sure you've seen much of this imagery (and please do scroll down for examples of what I described above). To that documentation I add the animation above. It consists of images of the smoke plume thrown high into the atmosphere by the explosions — as seen from 22,236 miles above the Earth by the Himawari-8 satellite in geosynchronous orbit. I've circled the smoke plume in the first frame so you can spot it easily (and not be thrown off by what appears to be a thunderstorm cloud). From the timestamp on the first image it seems that it was acquired by the satellite at 5:50 a.m. local time. The explosions occurred shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at a Tianjin port warehouse storing dangerous chemicals. So the start of the animation comes hours after the blasts. The smoke plume is subtle, but its dark color makes it clearly distinguishable from clouds. Make sure to click on it so you can see the full-size version. I estimate that from the first to the last frame, it drifts more than 150 miles across the Bohai Sea, that body of water you can see below the plume. (To get a sense of scale, click here for a Google Maps satellite view of the region. Also, for a longer version of the animation, go here.) It seems there were two main blasts early on Wednesday. The first exploded with the power of three metric tons of TNT, while the second was the equivalent of 21 tons, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center, as reported by CNN. That latter explosion was detected by U.S. Geological Survey seismometers 100 miles away in Beijing. It seems to have packed the seismological punch of an earthquake with a magnitude between 2 and 3, according to USGS geophysicist John Bellini, quoted in The Guardian. (See below for the seismological trace of the explosions.) Lastly, here are examples of imagery that I described up top: The blasts, up close: A man standing in the wrong place at the wrong time: The blasts seen from a balcony not far away (warning: obscene language): On the ground, the morning after the blasts: Before and after satellite images: Finally: Not a photographic image, but instructive nonetheless...

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