From Russia with Aerosols

From Russia with Aerosols

As the 2018 fire season rages in eastern and northern Russia, the blazes have sent up smoke laden with gases and small particles known as aerosols— some of which are traveling half-way around the world. On July 3, 2018, a cluster of fires in Russia’s Sakha province produced a smoke plume that traveled more than 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) in a span of 11 days.

The animation above shows aerosols traveling from Russia, across Alaska, and into central Canada from July 5 to July 9, 2018. The data were collected by the Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS) on the Suomi-NPP satellite. As of July 14, the smoke plume– now much weaker– was located south of Greenland. The fires were mainly caused by thunderstorms and human activity.

The image below shows the smoke clouding the atmosphere as the plume moved over Alaska on July 7, 2018. The view was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.

One factor that influences the density of the plume is the number and intensity of its source fires, says Hiren Jethva, an atmospheric scientist with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Fires this year have been more intense in some regions of Russia than previous years. According to Jethva's review of satellite fire data, Central Russia saw around 7,200 fires over July 1-15, which is about four times higher than the average number of fires detected over the past five years (2013-2017).

Smoke plumes can affect air quality at very long distances from their sources, as the polluting gases and aerosols emitted from fires are carried away by upper-level winds and air masses. For instance, this smoke plume passed over the Hudson Bay and shaded the land, as seen from this satellite perspective.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using data from Suomi NPP OMPS and MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kasha Patel.

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