Western Fire Smoke Makes Its Way to Atlantic
Hundreds of wildfires are dotting the western landscape this summer making life difficult for anyone west of the Rockies. But those east of the Rockies are actually being affected as well. Smoke from the wildfires has made its way across the country and out to the Atlantic Ocean and as far as Greenland.
Smoke travels well according to Georg Grell, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo.
The hotter the fire, the higher its smoke can go — and the higher the smoke goes into the atmosphere, the farther it typically travels, Grell told OurAmazingPlanet.
"The winds are much stronger up there, so it gets transported much quicker," he said. In addition, once smoke gets to certain altitudes, it's less likely to be washed out of the air by rainstorms, Grell said.
Smoke from extremely hot wildfires can rise 4 to 5 miles (7 to 8 kilometers) into the atmosphere, and can even trigger massive thunderstorms, but it's likely that the smoke from the recent spate of fires is hanging out about 1 mile (1.5 km) above the ground.
Is this something that the East Coasters need to worry about? Those who live in the smoke's path aren't likely to feel any ill effects if they're far enough away from the wildfires, according to asthma expert Mitchell Grayson in Milwaukee.
"Even though it could be covering a large area, if [the smoke] is in the upper atmosphere, it's not going to be a problem, because it's not the air we're breathing," said Grayson, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on September 19, 2012. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.
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NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC. Caption by Lynn Jenner