Published: Sat, January 18, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Australia wildfire smoke will circle the Earth with unknown consequences

Australia wildfire smoke will circle the Earth with unknown consequences

The bushfire smoke that arrives in countries far from its source will be unwelcome, but it won't be almost as bad as it is in Australia, where the fires have killed at least 25 people and likely millions of wild animals.

International Space Station commander and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano sent a series of tweets showing the environmental effects of the deadly bush fires, which have killed dozens of people in recent weeks and are now wrapping smog around major Australian cities, such as Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

Nasa kept in mind the smoke had actually transformed the colour of skies in South America, and also considerably impacted New Zealand, where it was "causing severe air quality issues" and also "visibly darkening mountaintop snow".

"Unusually large" number of pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) events which are fire-generated thunderstorms were produced by the massive bushfire.

NASA noted that the fires in Australia were "not just causing devastation locally", blaming what it called the "unprecedented conditions" of "heat combined with historic dryness".

These storms are sending smoke into the stratosphere, with some plumes reaching 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) from the ground, NASA said. Views of Australia from space show orange clouds blanketing parts of the country as devastating wildfires continue to blaze. As these materials cool, clouds are formed that behave like traditional thunderstorms but without the accompanying precipitation.

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"The effects of those events - whether the smoke provides a net atmospheric cooling or warming, what happens to underlying clouds - is now the subject of intense study", NASA said.

The space agency's Goddard research center has stated that the smoke had already progressed halfway around Earth as of January 8 and is now crossing South America, which has made the skies hazy and is causing colorful sunrises and sunsets. Values over 10 are often associated with such events.

According to NASA scientists, the smoke from fires in Australia is expected to form at least one "full cycle" around the globe and return to the sky over the country.

Tracking the smoke also allows NASA to detect changes in air quality.

"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", said study lead author Matthew Jones from the University of East Anglia.

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