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

By Tom Yulsman | August 14, 2015 11:19 am
Tianjin Smoke Plume

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:


Not a photographic image, but instructive nonetheless…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts
  • merrybosa

    me to-.- < I've made $76,000 so far this year working on-line and I'm a full time­ student. Im using an on-line business opportunity I heard about and I've made such great money…..

    <➤➤➤➤➤ Join Us Free >


  • Carla

    Hi Tom, I appreciated your article. I just shared it on our local news station’s Facebook page. There’s an article today about the odd smell lots of people have been noticing in our area. The comments are especially insightful.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar