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Australia Fire Smoke Will Complete a Full Circuit of Earth, NASA Says

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/14/2020 James Thornhill

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(Bloomberg) -- Once was bad enough, but smoke from Australia’s devastating bushfires is set to return to the country to complete a round-the-world trip that has seen it impact on air quality as far away as South America.

By Jan. 8, the smoke had made its way halfway around the world and will make at least one full circuit, according to scientists at NASA, citing satellite tracking data. New Zealand experienced severe air quality issues, while hazy skies and colorful sunsets and sunrises were seen in parts of Chile and Argentina.

“The fires in Australia are not just causing devastation locally,” NASA said in a media release. “The unprecedented conditions that include searing heat combined with historic dryness, have led to the formation of an unusually large number of pyrocumulonimbus events.”

The uplift of smoke and ash from the fires has triggered fire-induced thunderstorms, which provide a pathway for the smoke to travel more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) up into the stratosphere, NASA said.

“Once in the stratosphere, the smoke can travel thousands of miles from its source, affecting atmospheric conditions globally,” it said.

The fires have burned across an area twice the size of Switzerland causing at least 28 deaths and destroying thousands of homes. They have also pumped out more than half of the country’s annual carbon-dioxide emissions in another setback for the fight against climate change.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Thornhill in Sydney at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi at, Rob Verdonck

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