Australia's bushfires are producing so much smoke that NASA expects it to travel all the way around the world and return to Australia

sbaker@businessinsider.com (Sinéad Baker)
Australia fires

NASA

  • Australia's fires are producing so much smoke that it will most likely travel all the way around the earth and back to Australia, NASA said.
  • NASA said the smoke had already traveled "halfway around Earth" last week, reaching South America, and was "expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia."
  • The fires have devastated Australia, killing dozens of people and an estimated 1 billion animals, burning thousands of miles of land, and creating hazardous air quality.
  • The effects have reached other countries, including turning the sky red and glaciers black with smoke in New Zealand and affecting sunrises and sunsets in South America.
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NASA predicts that the massive bushfires devastating Australia will produce enough smoke to make at least one full circuit around the planet and return to Australia.

NASA's Goddard research center said the smoke had already "traveled halfway around Earth" as of January 8, "crossing South America, turning the skies hazy, and causing colorful sunrises and sunsets."

It continued: "The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia."

australia fires

SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

NASA noted that the fires in Australia were "not just causing devastation locally," blaming what it called the "unprecedented conditions" of "heat combined with historic dryness."

Bushfire season began in the country in September. The season has particularly intense thanks to a period of prolonged drought that helped fires spread, leading to unprecedented damage and the deaths of an estimated 1 billion animals.

The fires have killed at least 28 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Satellite images have shown clouds of smoke from the fires drifting away from the continent:

aus_fires

http://rammb.cira.colostate.edu/

They're so big that they have created their own weather, in the form of giant thunderstorms that can then create new fires.

These storms are sending smoke into the stratosphere, with some plumes reaching 9.3 miles, or 15 kilometers, from the ground, NASA said.

And this smoke then "can travel thousands of miles from its source, affecting atmospheric conditions globally."

NASA drew particular attention to Australia's neighbor New Zealand, saying: "The smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing severe air quality issues across the county and visibly darkening mountaintop snow."

The fires have turned skies in parts of New Zealand sky orange, even though the country is about 1,200 miles away.

Auckland bushfire sky 4

Phil Walter / Getty Images

NASA said the overall effects of this, such as whether the extra smoke ended up helping to heat or cool the earth, was "the subject of intense study."

In Australia, the smoke is creating dangerously low air-quality levels. Parts of Melbourne reached hazardous levels this week, and people were urged to stay indoors.

Australia fires

Luis Ascui/Getty Images

The fires have far exceeded the size of the fires in the Amazon in 2019, which then prompted global outcry.

They have prompted calls for the resignation of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has continued to support the country's coal industry.

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