Australian Bushfires: NASA uses Satellites to Track the Path of Smoke

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As the bushfires continue to burn in Australia their impact on global weather continues to worsen. NASA has now set up a group of their satellites to study how the smoke and aerosols from the fires are traveling around the world.

Photo Credit: NASA / Colin Seftor

Bushfires are a common feature in Australia and are a combination of long-term dryness and high levels of heat. These factors encourage PyroCBs to develop. Scientifically known as of pyrocumulonimbus events these are thunderstorms that form as a result of ash and smoke traveling upwards via hot drafts. 

Once the material rises it starts to cool causing some of the clouds to form thunderstorms that do not bring rain.

A global effect

Unfortunately, these PyroCbs make it easier for the smoke and ash to rise as high as the stratosphere. Once there, the smoke can freely travel globally and affect atmospheric conditions across the planet. 

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New Zealand is already experiencing dark snow on its mountaintops and issues of poor air quality. The effect of this is being analyzed by scientists and NASA is setting up satellites to work together to track the movement of the smoke and the activity of these pyroCbs.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NNP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellites have been equipped with VIIRS and OMPS-NM, tools which will help show scientists a true-color image of the smoke and its characteristics. 

This data is then used to track aerosols and smoke by the creation of a UV aerosol index which is combined with RGB data to track the movement of the smoke and materials.

The data indicate that smoke has already traveled halfway around the globe, impacting on countries in South America and causing haze. It is expected to travel around the Earth, eventually returning to Australia and New Zealand.