If you thought it was shocking that smoke from Australia’s devastating bushfires had reached South America, be prepared for worse news. The smoke is set to make its way around the world before it returns to its country of origin.
By January 8, the smoke had made its way halfway around the world and will make at least one full circuit, according to scientists at Nasa, citing satellite tracking data. New Zealand experienced severe air quality issues, while hazy skies and colorful sunsets and sunrises were seen in parts of Chile and Argentina.
“The fires in Australia are not just causing devastation locally,” Nasa said in a media release. “The unprecedented conditions that include searing heat combined with historic dryness, have led to the formation of an unusually large number of pyrocumulonimbus events.”
Nasa’s website describes pyrocumulonimbus as “the fire-breathing dragon of clouds”, “an explosive storm cloud actually created by the smoke and heat from fire, and which can ravage tens of thousands of acres [hectares]. And in the process, [these] storms funnel their smoke like a chimney into Earth’s stratosphere, with lingering ill effects”.
In Australia, the uplift of smoke and ash from the fires has triggered fire-induced thunderstorms, which provide a pathway for the smoke to travel more than 16 kilometres up into the stratosphere, Nasa said.
“Once in the stratosphere, the smoke can travel thousands of miles from its source, affecting atmospheric conditions globally,” it said.
The fires have burned across an area twice the size of Switzerland causing at least 28 deaths and destroying thousands of homes. They have also pumped out more than half of the country’s annual carbon-dioxide emissions in another setback for the fight against climate change.