Published: Wed, January 15, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Australia fires: Smoke to make 'full circuit' around globe, Nasa says

Australia fires: Smoke to make 'full circuit' around globe, Nasa says

"Unprecedented conditions" of searing heat combined with dryness have led to an "unusually large" number of pyrocumulonimbus (pyrCbs) events - fire-induced thunderstorms, triggered by an uplift of ash, smoke and burning material - the space agency has said.

"The formation of pyrocumulus clouds requires fires to burn hot enough to create an updraft of superheated, fast-rising air", NASA wrote.

"Aerosols absorb and scatter incoming sunlight, which reduces visibility and increases the optical depth".

"The fossil fuel companies that profit from climate change should be contributing to meet the costs of climate-fuelled disasters, but now it's the Australian community who pays", Ms Bennett said.

Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire. This can help or prevent clouds from forming. So much so that the smoke produced by this fire is nearly unprecedented.

The smoke produced by the fires-of which around 100 are still burning-has caused air quality problems in several major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne Canberra and Adelaide.

"The bushfire crisis has intensified concern about climate change for many Australians, a majority of whom think the country is experiencing the impacts of climate change right here and right now", institute deputy director Ebony Bennett said.

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How has the smoke travelled around the world?

The global initiative utilizes five science instruments to collect climate and weather data critical for global monitoring.

NASA uses its satellite fleet to detect wildfires, sometimes detecting wildfires in remote areas before officials on the ground.

"Overall, our review finds that climate change increases the frequency and severity of fire weather globally and thus increases the risk of fire occurring".

The fire season that began in late July has been the worst in decades, claiming at least 28 lives, thousands of homes and endangering hundreds of thousands of animals. Photographs of a vehicle windscreen wiper stick and an umbrella were accompanied by the note: "We wanted to reintroduce you to a couple of items that you may not have used in some time". It comes after 2019 marked the hottest and driest year in Australian history.

Imagery captured by NASA satellites provides a "true-color" view of the smoke.

UV aerosol index information shows the impact of the Australian fires. It also has characteristics that are well-suited for identifying and tracking smoke from pyroCb events: the higher the smoke plume, the larger the aerosol index value.

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