December 8, 2021 - Ship Tracks over the Pacific Ocean

Ship Tracks in the Pacific Ocean

On December 6, 2021, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer captured a startling true-color image of what appeared to be long white slashes in the clouds over the North Pacific Ocean. While the imagery looks dramatic, the long white streaks are merely clouds created by the exhaust of many ships as they cross the ocean.

The shipping lane across the North Pacific Ocean is one of the widest and busiest on Earth, as goods are exchanged between Japan and Eastern, in the west, and Canada, the West Coast of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. As the ships motor across the ocean, they release exhaust that contain a variety of substances, including very small particles. Some of these particles (especially sulfates) are soluble in water and serve as the seeds around which cloud droplets form. Clouds infused with ship exhaust have more and smaller droplets than unpolluted clouds. As a result, the light hitting the polluted clouds scatters in many directions, making them appear especially bright and thick.

Image Facts
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 12/6/2021
Resolutions: 1km (2 MB), 500m (5.3 MB), 250m (4.6 MB)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC