Monday, 24 February, 2020

Smoke from Australia's fires will make 'full circuit' around the world

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption New Zealand was blanketed by smoke from Australian fires at the start of January Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption New Zealand was blanketed by smoke from Australian fires at the start of January
Deanna Wagner | 16 January, 2020, 16:25

More than 11 million ha of Australian forests and farmlands have been scorched since the fires began last September, several months before the traditional start to Australia's summer fire season. "The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the world and return to the skies over Australia again", the space agency said.

The smoke is forecast to soon return to Australian airspace, according to ABC Australia.

"Beyond New Zealand, by January 8, the smoke had traveled halfway around Earth, crossing South America, turning the skies hazy and causing colorful sunrises and sunsets", NASA stated. New Zealand experienced serious air quality problems, while hazy skies and colorful sunsets and sunrises were seen in parts of Chile and Argentina. Days later, it was reported over South America.

The smoke has billowed into the lower stratosphere, reaching 17.7 kilometres above sea level.

The smoke is having a dramatic impact on nearby New Zealand, which has experienced severe air quality issues and a darkening of the colour of the snow on the mountains.

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Lisa Harvey-Smith, an astrophysicist at the University of New South Wales, told ABC the resulting smoke can rise at least 10 miles (17km) into the atmosphere and "travel relatively unimpeded, above most of the atmosphere and weather".

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

"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.

Using a fleet of satellites, the space agency has been analyzing the smoke and aerosols coming from the fires blazing in Australia. Suomi NPP carries carry five science instruments and is the first satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting.