Smoke from the Australian wildfires is expected to rise up into the atmosphere, circle around the globe, and then return to Australia, NASA says after using satellites to track the clouds of smoke.
As SBS News reports, NASA has been monitoring the plumes of smoke from the devastating fires, as they rise to about nine miles into the atmosphere before being caught by the prevailing winds and blown eastward.
As of January 8, the smoke had made its way halfway across the globe, blessing South Americans with glorious sunrises and sunsets as the light filters through the particulate matter, bathing the skies in fiery red and orange.
NASA expects the plumes of smoke to be blown completely across the globe, ultimately returning to Australia where they began.
While South Americans may be enjoying the sight, Australians are most certainly not. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets aside, the air around much of Australia is thick with choking fumes and ash. Air quality in some cities is downright hazardous, and authorities in the Australian state of Victoria are urging residents to stay indoors if at all possible.
“During periods of good air quality ventilate by opening windows & doors,” the agency said in a tweet.
Indeed, beleaguered Australians may yet be getting the smallest of breaks from the devastating wildfires, as winds have calmed somewhat around the country’s capital region, allowing the pollution to settle rather than be kicked up by the wind.
If dealing with near-toxic air isn’t bad enough, Australians are also dealing with another problem kicked up by the wildfires: fire-induced thunderstorms.
“They are triggered by the uplift of ash, smoke, and burning material via super-heated updrafts. As these materials cool, clouds are formed that behave like traditional thunderstorms but without the accompanying precipitation,” NASA explains.
Nearby New Zealand, for its part, is also dealing with the effects of Australia’s wildfires. The country, like parts of Australia, is battling toxic air quality. Meanwhile, dust and ash from the wildfires have rendered its pristine, snow-capped mountains a dull gray.
Particles kicked up into the atmosphere from a natural disaster such as a fire or a volcanic explosion have had a profound effect on the ground for much of recorded history.
As Gizmodo reports, the 1883 eruption of the volcano Krakatau sent millions of tons of dust and ash into the atmosphere, and the effects were seen as far away as Europe. Several works of art from the time period, possibly including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” depict unnaturally yellow and red skies, which some historians say are references to the actual sunrises and sunsets experienced by Europeans following the eruption.