In any fire around the world, NASA-NOAA’s Finland Nuclear Power Plant Satellite Ozone Mapping and Profiling Series (OMPS) can monitor smoke and aerosols.
On September 13, 2019, OMPS data revealed aerosols and smoke from fires in both South and North America.
The Finnish OMPS monitors the condition of the ozone layer and measures the concentration of ozone in the earth’s atmosphere and can detect aerosols. Ozone is an important molecule in the atmosphere because it partially blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. OMPS data helps researchers monitor the health of this vital protective layer.
OMPS can also be used to measure concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in atmospheric aerosols and volcanic eruptions caused by dust storms and similar events. One aerosol-related OMPS product is a value known as the “aerosol index” or AI. The AI value is related to both the thickness and height of the atmospheric aerosol layer. For most aerosol-related atmospheric events, AI ranges from 0.0 to 5.0, and 5.0 indicates high concentrations of aerosols that can impair visibility and / or affect health.
The first OMPS was launched with the Finland nuclear power plant satellite in October 2011.
An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air or another gas. Aerosols can be natural or man-made (man-made). Examples of natural aerosols are mist, dust and geyser vapor. Examples of man-made aerosols are turbidity (suspended particles in the lower atmosphere), particulate air pollutants, and smoke.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, high aerosol concentrations can affect the climate and impair visibility, but they can also affect respiration, reproduction, the cardiovascular system, and the central nervous system. Because aerosols can remain suspended in the atmosphere and can be transported with the prevailing high wind currents, they can travel long distances from their source and their effects can be delayed.
In North America, OMPS, a Finnish nuclear power plant, detected smoke and aerosols from fires in the Yukon region of Canada. Aerosol concentrations were very high due to the 9/11 pyrocumulus incident over the Yukon fires. The picture also shows a light brown smoke area that looks like the letter C on the page. The figure also shows a low pressure system (spiral cloud area) on the west coast of Canada. Credits: Credit: NASA / NOAA, Colin Seftor
The South American fires produced smoke that continues to form a long pile east of the Atlantic Ocean. Fires in western Brazil produced aerosols at index level 2.0. Higher aerosol concentrations of up to 4.0 were seen on the southeast coast of Brazil as a result of fires in the area.
In North America, OMPS, a Finnish nuclear power plant, detected smoke and aerosols from fires in the Yukon region of Canada. Aerosol concentrations were very high due to the 9/11 pyrocumulus incident over the Yukon fires.
Pyrocumulus clouds — sometimes referred to as “fire clouds” —are tall, cauliflower-shaped, and appear as opaque white patches hovering over darker smoke in satellite images. Pyrocumulus clouds are similar to cumulus clouds, but the heat that forces the air to rise (leading to cooling and condensation of water vapor) comes from the fire instead of the sun-heated earth. Under certain conditions, pyrocumulus clouds can produce full-scale thunderstorms, making them pyrocumulonimbus clouds.
Scientists are closely monitoring pyrocumulus clouds because they can inject smoke and pollutants high into the atmosphere. Because pollutants spread under the influence of wind, they can affect air quality over a wide area.
Also pictured is a light brown smoke area that looks like the letter C on the side and a low pressure system (spiral cloud area) on the west coast of Canada.
Both images were created at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.