The space agency has been using its network of satellites to monitor smoke and aerosols from the Australian wildfires. Citing unprecedented conditions caused by intense heat and dryness, NASA notes that the fires have caused an “unusually large number of pyrocumulonimbus (pyrCbs) events,” or fire-induced thunderstorms.
“PyroCb events provide a pathway for smoke to reach the stratosphere more than 10 miles (16 km) in altitude,” NASA explained, in a blog post on Jan. 9. “Once in the stratosphere, the smoke can travel thousands of miles from its source, affecting atmospheric conditions globally.”
“NASA is tracking the movement of smoke from the Australian fires lofted, via pyroCbs events, more than 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) high,” NASA added. “The smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing severe air quality issues across the county and visibly darkening mountaintop snow.”
NASA’s Goddard’s Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md. has been compiling satellite data, creating an “ultraviolet aerosol index” to track the aerosols and smoke.
The space agency notes that, by Jan. 8, smoke from the Australian fires had already traveled halfway around the world. When the smoke crossed South America, it turned the skies hazy and caused colorful sunrises and sunsets, according to NASA. “The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia,” it added.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have also been sharing images of the Australian fires captured from the orbiting space lab.
"An immense ash cloud covers Australia as we fly toward the sunset," tweeted European Space Agency Astronaut Luca Parmitano on Monday.
The Australian wildfires have scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of Indiana since September. At least 28 people have lost their lives in the crisis, which has destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers