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AUSTRALIA BUSHFIRES

Australian bush fire smoke has spread around the Earth, Nasa satellite shows

Image credit: reuters

A Nasa satellite tracking the Australian bush fires has shown how the particulate matter shrouding many of the country’s major cities has moved as far afield as parts of China, Mongolia and Russia.

Data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite showed that the smoke actually circumnavigated the Earth and was coming back to the Eastern region of Australia. First launched in 2011, it carries five science instruments designed to take climate measurements and aid in weather forecasting.

Nasa’s satellite instruments are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote regions, and the locations of new fires are sent directly to land managers worldwide within hours of the satellite passing overhead.

It can detect actively burning fires, track the transport of smoke from fires, provide information for fire management, and map the extent of changes to ecosystems, based on the extent and severity of burn scars.

Air quality has been a major issue in Australia since the bushfires started, with people being urged to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise.

The Nasa data suggests that while not as severe, millions of citizens in countries such Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and parts of China will be negatively effected by the increased amounts of particulate matter in the air.

Suomi NPP includes a tool called the OMPS (Ozone Mapper and Profiler Suite of instruments), which can indicate the presence of ultraviolet (UV)-absorbing particles in the air (aerosols) such as desert dust and, in this case, soot particles in the atmosphere.

Aerosols absorb and scatter incoming sunlight, which reduces visibility and increases the optical depth.

They can impact human health when inhaled by people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses and have an effect on the weather and climate by cooling or warming the Earth, helping or preventing clouds from forming.

Suomi NPP observes the Earth’s surface twice every 24-hour day, once in daylight and once at night, and flies 824km above the surface in a polar orbit, circling the planet about 14 times a day.

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