Fires in Australia: NASA warns that smoke from forest fires will travel around the world

Smoke from devastating Australian wildfires will travel around the world, according to data compiled by NASA.

The space agency has been using its satellite network to control smoke and aerosols from Australian forest fires. Citing unprecedented conditions caused by intense heat and dryness, NASA notes that the fires have caused an “unusually large number of pyrochumulonimbus (pyrCbs) events” or fire-induced storms.

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“PyroCb events provide a way for smoke to reach the stratosphere at more than 10 miles (16 km) altitude,” NASA said in a blog post on January 9. “Once in the stratosphere, smoke can travel thousands of miles from its source, which affects global weather conditions.”

The images captured by NASA satellites provide a “true color” view of the smoke. NASA notes that the effect of Rayleigh dispersion has been eliminated, which would add “blue haze.”
(NASA / Colin Seftor)

“NASA is tracking the movement of smoke from burning Australian fires, through pyroCbs events, over 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) high,” NASA added. “The smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing serious air quality problems throughout the county and visibly obscuring snow on the top of the mountain.”

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The UV spray index information shows the impact of Australian fires. (NASA / Colin Seftor)

The UV spray index information shows the impact of Australian fires. (NASA / Colin Seftor)

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Goddard, Maryland, has been compiling satellite data, creating an “ultraviolet spray index” to track aerosols and smoke.

The space agency notes that, by January 8, the smoke from the Australian fires had already traveled half the world. When the smoke crossed South America, the sky became foggy and caused colorful sunrises and sunsets, according to NASA. “The smoke is expected to make at least one complete circuit around the world, returning once more to the skies over Australia,” he added.

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Astronauts from the International Space Station have also been sharing images of Australian fires captured from the space laboratory in orbit.

“An immense cloud of ash covers Australia as we fly into the sunset,” the astronaut of the European Space Agency Luca Parmitano tweeted on Monday.

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Australian wildfires have swept an area larger than the US state of Indiana since September. At least 28 people have lost their lives in the crisis, which has destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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