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FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, aerial photo, wildfires rage under plumes of smoke in Bairnsdale, Australia. Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate people trapped on the shore further south. (Glen Morey via AP)

Smoke from Australian wildfires will circle the entire world, NASA says

The wildfires in Australia have caused “unprecedented” conditions that will affect the entire world, according to NASA. The space agency has released satellite images that show smoke from the fires moving around the globe.

“The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia,” write Colin Seftor and Rob Gutro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Unprecedented conditions like the searing heat of the fires and historic dryness have caused “pyrocumulonimbus events,” which are fire-induced thunderstorms. An uplift of ash and smoke, which then cools, creates a thunderstorm-like occurrence but without the rain. Lightning from these storms can then spark additional fires.

When smoke reaches higher than 10 miles in altitude, it can travel thousands of miles and affect global atmospheric conditions
(NASA/COLIN SEFTOR)

The effects of these pyrocumulonimbus events are “currently the subject of intense study,” NASA said. Scientists are tracking the circulation of the smoke, hoping to determine the impact on underlying clouds and whether the smoke cools or warms the atmosphere.

New Zealand is currently receiving the brunt of this smoke, which is causing severe air quality issues and even darkening snow on the country’s mountaintops.

The smoke, however, has already traveled far beyond Australia and New Zealand. In fact, according to NASA, by January 8 the smoke had drifted halfway around the world. The sky over South America turned hazy, causing colorful sunrises and sunsets as the smoke crossed over.

Author: CAITLIN O'KANE/CBS News
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