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North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

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North America's Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

If you live on the west coast of North America, it’s likely that you’ve felt a bit smoked out, lately.

Wildfires in British Columbia, Canada are already the worst in the province’s history, while California has had a particularly rough season with human deaths, evacuations, and billions of dollars of damage.

Oregon has one confirmed death from a wildfire in mid-July, and Washington hasn’t gotten off easy, either. On July 31, 2018 a state of emergency was declared in the Evergreen State.

Visualizing Wildfires From Space

Today’s image comes to us from NASA, and it shows aerosols around the world including those originating from volcanoes, desert dust, cloud cover, sea-salt – and of course, smoke.

Here’s the same image with labels, indicating black carbon on the west coast of the continent:

Wildfires, hurricanes, and slash and burning

The wildfires are just as visible as the massive slash-and-burning occurring in Central Africa, hurricanes and typhoons, and even the dust swirling up from the Sahara, the world’s largest desert.

Here’s a visualization of the fires in North America, with some extra zoom:

North America smoke

It’s clear from this image that smoke isn’t just affecting the coast – in fact, experts say it has been travelling as far as Ireland, in lesser concentrations of course.

Other Visuals

While we thought the visualization above was the most striking, there are countless of other examples from the last month that show the extent of wildfires and smoke on the west coast.

Here’s another shot from NASA from a few weeks ago, during peak wildfire season in California and Oregon:

And here’s an image of Seattle and Vancouver from mid-August, when smoke from Canadian fires was so bad in those cities that it was like “inhaling seven cigarettes” per day:

Air Quality

Future Forecast

As we roll into September, the worst of the wildfire season is over.

Unfortunately, it’s already been the worst in British Columbia’s history. Here are the 10 worst fire seasons graphed since 1950, based on square kilometers burned:

BC Wildfires
Data as of Aug 29, 2018, and from the BC Forest Service

While this year has been an anomaly, it may also be a preview of what’s to come. One recent report out of California said that the number of wildfires over 25,000 acres is likely to increase by 50% leading up to 2050.

Is this the new normal?

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Energy

Visualizing the Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes

We visualize how far popular EV models will take you on real-world routes between major cities, and which are the most cost effective.

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The Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes

Between growing concerns around climate change, new commuting behaviors due to COVID-19, and imminent policy changes, the global transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is well under way.

By the year 2040, sales of electric vehicles are projected to account for 58% of new car sales, up from just 2.7% currently.

But switching from a gasoline car to an electric one is not seamless. With charging and range capacities to consider, and the supporting infrastructure still being slowly rolled out in many parts of the world, understanding the realities of EV transportation is vital.

Above, we highlight 2020 all-electric vehicle range on well-recognized routes, from California’s I-5 in the U.S. to the A2 autobahn in Germany. The data on estimated ranges and costs are drawn from the U.S. EPA as well as directly from manufacturer websites.

The EV Breakdown: Tesla is King of Range

For many consumers, the most important aspect of an electric vehicle is how far they can travel on a single charge.

Whether it’s for long commutes or out-of-city trips, vehicles must meet a minimum threshold to be considered practical for many households. As the table below shows, Tesla’s well-known EVs are far-and-away the best option for long range drivers.

VehicleRange (miles)Range (km)MSRPCost per mile
Tesla Model S Long Range Plus402647$74,990$186.54
Tesla Model X Long Range Plus351565$79,990$227.89
Tesla Model S Performance348560$94,990$272.96
Tesla Model 3 Long Range322518$46,990$145.93
Tesla Model Y Long Range316509$49,990$158.20
Tesla Model X Performance305491$99,990$327.84
Tesla Model 3 LR Performance299481$54,990$183.91
Tesla Model Y Performance291468$59,990$206.15
Polestar 2275443$59,900$217.82
Chevrolet Bolt EV259417$36,620$141.39
Hyundai Kona Electric258415$37,190$144.15
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus250402$37,990$151.96
Kia Niro EV239385$39,090$163.56
Jaguar I-PACE234377$69,850$298.50
Nissan LEAF e+ S226364$38,200$169.03
Audi e-tron Sportback218351$69,100$316.97
Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL215346$39,750$184.88
Audi e-tron204328$65,900$323.04
Porsche Taycan 4S Perf Battery Plus203327$112,990$556.60
Porsche Taycan Turbo201323$153,510$763.73
Porsche Taycan Turbo S192309$187,610$977.14
Hyundai IONIQ Electric170274$33,045$194.38
BMW i3153246$44,450$290.52
Nissan LEAF149240$31,600$212.08
MINI Cooper SE110177$29,900$271.82
Fiat 500e84135$33,460$398.33

In an industry where innovation and efficiency are vital, Tesla’s first-mover advantage is evident. From the more affordable Model 3 to the more luxurious Model S, the top eight EVs with the longest ranges are all Tesla vehicles.

At 402 miles (647 km), the range of the number one vehicle (the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus) got 127 miles more per charge than the top non-Tesla vehicle, the Polestar 2—an EV made by Volvo’s standalone performance brand.

Closer Competition in Cost

Though Tesla leads on overall range and battery capacity, accounting for the price of each vehicle shows that cost-efficiency is far more competitive among brands.

By dividing the retail price by the maximum range of each vehicle, we can paint a clearer picture of efficiency. Leading the pack is the Chevrolet Bolt, which had a cost of $141.39/mile of range in 2020 while still placing in the top 10 for range with 259 miles (417 km).

Just behind in second place was the Hyundai Kona electric at $144.15/mile of range, followed by the Tesla Model 3—the most efficient of the automaker’s current lineup. Rounding out the top 10 are the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S, but the difference from number one to number ten was minimal, at just over $45/mile.

Top 10 All-Electric Vehicles by Cost Efficiency
VehicleCost per mile
Chevrolet Bolt EV$141.39
Hyundai Kona Electric$144.15
Tesla Model 3 Long Range$145.93
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus$151.96
Tesla Model Y Long Range$158.20
Kia Niro EV$163.56
Nissan LEAF e+ S$169.03
Tesla Model 3 LR Performance$183.91
Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL$184.88
Tesla Model S Long Range Plus$186.54

Higher Ranges and Lower Costs on the Horizon

The most important thing to consider, however, is that the EV industry is entering a critical stage.

On one hand, the push for electrification and innovation in EVs has driven battery capacity higher and costs significantly lower. As batteries account for the bulk of weight, cost, and performance in EVs, those dividends will pay out in longer ranges and greater efficiencies with newer models.

Equally important is the strengthening global push for electric vehicle adoption. In countries like Norway, EVs are already among the best selling cars on the market, while adoption rates in China and the U.S. are steadily climbing. This is also being impacted by policy decisions, such as California’s recent announcement that it would be banning the sale of gasoline cars by 2035.

Meanwhile, the only thing outpacing the growing network of Tesla superchargers is the company’s rising stock price. Not content to sit on the sidelines, competing automakers are rapidly trying to catch up. Nissan’s LEAF is just behind the Tesla Model 3 as the world’s second-best-selling EV, and Audi recently rolled out a supercharger network that can charge its cars from 0% to 80% at a faster rate than Tesla.

As the tidal wave of electric vehicle demand and adoption continues to pick up steam, consumers can expect increasing innovation to drive up ranges, decrease costs, and open up options.

Correction: A previous version of this graphic showed a European route that was the incorrect distance.

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Understanding How the Air Quality Index Works

This graphic breaks down how the air quality index is measured, and looks at which regions are hardest hit by atmospheric pollution and wildfires.

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how air quality works

Understanding How the Air Quality Index Works

Air quality levels have received a lot of attention in recent months.

In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, many places reported a marked increase in air quality. Northern India captured the world’s attention when it was reported that the Himalayan mountain range was visible for the first time in decades.

On the flipside, later in the summer, wildfires swept over the Pacific Northwest and California, blanketing entire regions with a thick shroud of smoke that spanned hundreds of miles.

How is air quality measured, and what goes into the health scores we see?

Measuring the Air Quality Index

When we see that air quality is “good” or “unhealthy”, those public health categories are derived from the Air Quality Index (AQI).

In the U.S., the AQI is calculated using four major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act:

  • Ground-level ozone
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter

Some countries have a slightly different way of calculating their scores. For example, India also measures levels of ammonia and lead in the air.

To make these readings more accessible, the AQI has a scoring system that runs from 0 to 500, using data collected from air monitoring stations in cities around the world. Scores below 50 are considered good, with very little impact to human health. The higher the score gets, the worse the air quality is.

To make communicating potential health risks to the public even easier, ranges of scores have been organized into descriptive categories.

AQI Score RangeAQI CategoryPM2.5 (μg/m³)Health Risks
0-50Good0-12.0Air quality is satisfactory and poses little or no risk.
51-100Moderate12.1-35.4Sensitive individuals should avoid outdoor activity.
101-150Unhealthy35.5-55.4General public and sensitive individuals in particular are
at risk to experience irritation and respiratory problems.
151-200Unhealthy55.5-150.4Increased likelihood of adverse effects and aggravation
to the heart and lungs among general public.
201-300Very Unhealthy150.5-250.4General public will be noticeably affected.
Sensitive groups should restrict outdoor activities.
301+Hazardous250.5+General public is at high risk to experience strong
irritations and adverse health effects. Everyone
should avoid outdoor activities.

Particulate Matter

While all the forms of atmospheric pollution are a cause for concern, it’s the smaller 2.5μm particles that get the most attention. For one, we can see visible evidence in the form of haze and smoke when PM2.5 levels increase. As well, these fine particles have a much easier time entering our bodies via breathing.

There are a number of factors that can increase the concentration of a region’s particulate matter. Some common examples include:

  • Coal-fired power stations
  • Cooking stoves (Many people around the world burn organic material for cooking and heating)
  • Smoke from wildfires and slash-and-burn land clearing

Wildfires and Air Quality

Air quality scores can fluctuate a lot from season to season. For example, regions that are reliant on coal for power generation tend to see AQI score spikes during peak periods.

One of the biggest fluctuations occurs during wildfire season, when places that typically have scores in the “good” category can see scores reach unsafe levels. In 2020, Eastern Australia and the West Coast of the U.S. both saw massive drops in air quality during their respective wildfire seasons.

Air quality in wildfire season

Luckily, while these types of fluctuations are extreme, they are also temporary.

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