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Friday, November 22, 2019

Australian bushfires so intense smoke crosses the Pacific to South America

The extent of Australia's November Bushfires are massive, and the smoke cloud has gone global.

NASA have tracked the smoke cloud lofted 12-13 kilometres into the atmosphere from the hundreds of fires along the east coast of Australia. This smoke has drifted across the Pacific and South America, and even been detected over the southern Atlantic.

The fires are all the more concerning given this is in Spring season in November, long before the major bushfire season expected during January-February. This is very far from normal.

NASA tracked the black carbon emissions blowing through the atmosphere from November 1-18. The animation clearly shows wisps of smoke reaching Chile November 16-17.

I have travelled across the Pacific to Chile, but even here the effects of climate change driving earlier and more intense bushfires can be detected.

According to researchers, the smoke plumes from the Australian fires have risen as high as 12 to 13 kilometers (7 to 8 miles) in the atmosphere. That is unusually high for wildfires. “This event is interesting because we still don’t have a confirmed pyrocumulonimbus cloud to explain the lofting,” said Mike Fromm, a fire researcher at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. “In spite of this being a well-observed plume event, it is still not clear how so much smoke got so high so fast.”

As wildfires consume wood, vegetation, homes, and other materials, they emit many gases and particles, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, organic carbon, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Black carbon is a type of aerosol that is especially harmful to humans and animals because the particles are small enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream.

When such pollutants rise high into the atmosphere, their effects can spread across oceans and continents and can linger for weeks to months. Beyond health effects on the ground, black carbon and other debris can darken snow and ice, accelerating melting. In the atmosphere, the particles and gases can absorb or block sunlight, affect cloud formation, and increase or reduce rainfall. When lofted in great quantities, smoke plumes might have an impact on climate.

Occasionally, smoke even causes odd problems for pilots. “Dense smoke far from its source can create problems, especially if it is encountered without knowing what it is,” said Fromm. “For instance, airliners have occasionally made emergency landings because smoke outside was detected inside the aircraft.”

Read the full story at the NASA Earth Observatory, including the animation of black carbon smoke.

Nearly two weeks ago i wrote that East Coast of Australia literally on fire, #bushfires driven by global heating.

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