Smoke cloud from 2019/20 Australian wildfires triple the size of previous say researchers

The smoke cloud caused by last winter’s Australian wildfires was three times larger than anything previously recorded, according to researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Since September Australia has seen wildfires which have burned almost 27 million hectares of land, destroying 2,500 homes.

As a consequence of these unprecedented fires, a smoke cloud measuring 1,000 kilometres across pushed into the atmosphere.

According to the researchers, the cloud remained intact for three months, travelled 66,000 kilometres and soared to a height of 35 kilometres above the earth.

Information collected by satellite revealed that the smoke blocked sunlight from reaching the Earth to an extent never seen before from wildfires.

The stratosphere is typically viewed as a pristine, naturally clean, stable part of the atmosphere.

However, when aerosols-such as smoke from wildfires or sulphuric acid from a volcanic eruption-are forced up into the stratosphere, they can remain aloft for many months, blocking sunlight from passing through, which in turns changes the balance of the climate system.

Adam Bourassa, professor of physics who played a key role in analysing the satellite data reportedly said that  saw the satellite measurement of the smoke plume, it was “jaw-dropping”:

“Knowing that these fires are likely to strike more frequently and with more intensity due to climate change, we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere.”

The research by the University of Saskatchewan comes as a Royal Commission report into the apocalyptic 2019-20 bushfires, released last week, said Australia must radically change its approach to fighting fires under new climate conditions.

The royal commission has made 80 recommendations, including calls for a more co-ordinated approach and new legislation to allow the prime minister to declare a national state of emergency.

The wide-reaching recommendations cut across national and state-based responses, and say there needs to be standardised and consistent approaches. A national cabinet approach is also recommended.

The commission’s 80 sweeping recommendations include:

  • Formation of a new disaster resilience and recovery agency to champion resilience across the nation
  • Speed-up development of a nationally consistent fire danger rating system
  • Create nationally consistent air quality advice and develop forecasting capabilities
  • More support for people suffering mental health impacts from disasters