Earlier this week, Australia’s bushfire smoke crossed the Pacific. A 7,000-mile train of smoke is pretty damn bad, and yet somehow things have gotten more alarming.
Researchers have now tracked the smoke into every ocean basin on Earth, save the Arctic, and there are signs it could cross the equator into the northern hemisphere. The massive plume of smoke is a reminder that these fires are a global problem we all have a stake in.
There’s no shortage of horrific impacts tied to Australia’s fires from dead wildlife to lost homes. The smoke in Australia is a huge public health issue, but the transport across the oceans is no less significant. A satellite known as GOES-16 covers the Atlantic basin, and images clearly show smoke blowing over Chile and Argentina and into the Atlantic basin.
Santiago Gassó, a NASA aerosol researcher, has been tracking the smoke and pointed out in a tweet that it has made to the Indian Ocean as well, nearly surrounding the Southern Hemisphere in a smoke ring. By his estimate, the smoke covers roughly 38 million square kilometers (23 million square miles), an area the size of Russia, Canada, China, and then some. The instruments are tracking heavier concentrations of aerosols, the small particles of soot that make up smoke, and there’s a good chance smaller amounts of smoke extend much further.
Smoke is also pushing toward the equator. Crossing it might be tough given prevailing local winds, but regardless, you get the point. This is a huge freaking plume of smoke resulting from the freaking huge fires.
Back in Australia, protestors turned out in force in Sydney to protest climate inaction by the government, which is led by coal-coddling Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who spent part of the bushfire crisis on vacation. Since his return, he’s tried to make people shake his hand to no avail and has been generally reviled by large parts of the populace for doing jack about climate. Disinformation has also abounded about the fires and the exceedingly small role arson played.
Climate change is a driving force of the fires. Australia just experienced its hottest and driest year on record, pushing it further into a new and unsteady state. Globe-enveloping smoke like this is the product of the changes afoot, and as the world continues to heat, it’s likely to only become more common.