Bushfire aftermath: smoke trapped over Antarctica

Bushfire aftermath: smoke trapped over Antarctica

28 May 2009

published by www.abc.net.au

Australia — Smoke haze from Victoria’s devastating bushfires has become trapped in the atmosphere above Antarctica.

The ferocity of the fires has seen smoke reach heights never seen before and it has now travelled south.

Andrew Klekociuk from the Australian Antarctic Division says the smoke from the February fires arrived in the atmosphere in early March.

“It’s an unprecedented layer of smoke that’s between about 14 kilometres and 20 kilometres above the surface,” he said.

It was picked up by NASA scientists and researchers at Australia’s Davis Station using a light detection instrument called a lidar, which captures a vertical slice of the atmosphere.

The intensity of the Victorian bushfires acted like a chimney, sucking smoke into the atmosphere and creating a fire-generated thunderstorm known as a pyrocumulonimbus.

Washington-based scientist Michael Fromm agrees the phenomenon is unprecedented.

“We have seen aerosols higher in the stratosphere by several kilometres than we have ever observed anywhere on the earth,” he said.

“The evidence speaks to the effects of this storm being the most intense of any one we’ve observed throughout the years.

“They are in a location of our atmosphere where they will last for a long time.”

Andrew Klekociuk says scientists expect that will have an impact on climate.

“They accumulate sulphates and water vapour and that’s providing sites for chemical reactions to take place,” he said.

“Some of those chemical reactions affect the amount of ozone in the atmosphere.”

With some scientists concerned that extreme bushfires will become more common, the phenomenon over Antarctica will be monitored closely.

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