Wildfire Smoke Across the U.S. Is So Bad You Can See It From Space

The Oregon Bootleg fire captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite 6 photos
Photo: Lauren Dauphin/ NASA Earth Observatory
Concentration of black carbon particules spreading across the U.S.Color image of smoke over the northeast captured by NASA's NOAA-20 satelliteImage captured by NASA’s Terra satellite show wildfires spreading on the West CoastThe Oregon Bootleg fire captured by NASA's Aqua satellite on July 18thSmoke from Ontario, Canada, has blown south into the U.S.
While wildfires make headlines across the U.S. and Canada every summer, this year is different. A total of 88 large fires are active in the U.S., taking over 800,000 acres more than last year. The wildfire smoke spread from western North America all the way to the northeast and Canada. It got so bad that NASA's satellites captured images from space of the smoke drifting eastward.
Data collected by NASA's Micro-Pulse Lidar Network (MPLNET) and Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) between July 20th and July 21st revealed that a substantial amount of smoke was present below an altitude of 2 kilometers (1 mile) from the land surface. The haze clouded the skies, reddened the sunsets, and even gave us an orange-tinted full Moon.

NASA's Earth Observatory released this week a few images that show just how serious the situation is. Smoke from the fires was captured from space by the NOAA-20 and Aqua satellites. The color images taken with the instruments onboard show a massive amount of smoke drifting eastward.

Even if most wildfires are threatening the homes on the West Coast, the resulting smoke has not only affected the areas where the fires are taking place. Winds have pushed it across the country to the northeast, raising the air toxicity to alarming levels in Philadelphia and New York City.

Air pollution levels in New York City have surpassed 170 on the air quality index, a dangerous level even for healthy people. Ryan Stauffer, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, says "that's a magnitude of particle pollution that New York City hasn't seen in more than a decade."

Currently, the largest fire is the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which as of today, Sunday 25th, has burned more than 530,000 acres. According to the Earth Observatory, even if the most devastating fires are currently spreading across the West Coast, a large portion of the smoke that reached eastern cities has most likely passed from a cluster of flames near the border of Manitoba and Ontario. Fires burning further west in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest may have also contributed to some of the smoke.

One of the images released by the agency shows the concentration of black carbon particulates, one of the several particles found in wildfire smoke, over North America on July 21st. The data collected by the GEOS forward processing (GEOS-FP) model, which includes data from satellite, aircraft, and ground-based observing systems, indicates that the black carbon is spreading eastward across the U.S.

Factors that have a direct influence on the phenomenon include drought, winds, extreme heat, and dry vegetation. The future does look smoky as these wildfires are going to become more and more extreme, and climate change will only worsen the conditions that "spark" the disasters.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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