Giant Australian Bushfire Injected 1 Million Tons of Smoke in the Atmosphere


Massive Australian bushfires likely contributed to the large and persistent ozone hole in 2020.

New research on the massive Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020 shows that almost 1 million metric tons of smoke rose into the stratosphere, causing it to warm by about 1 degree Celsius for six months, and likely contributed to the large and persistent ozone hole that formed over Antarctica during the Southern Hemisphere’s spring.

The December 29, 2019–January 4, 2020 Australian New Year’s wildfires were the most devastating in Australian history. They produced the largest input of wildfire smoke to the stratosphere observed in the satellite era, and had measurable effects on the atmosphere of the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Led by Pengfei Yu, a former CIRES scientist at NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, a team of researchers used a climate model to study the transport, microphysics, chemistry, and climate impacts of smoke from the massive bushfires. They explored how extreme volumes of wildfire smoke can cause persistent impacts to the dynamics and chemistry of the stratosphere, which lies 12 to 50 kilometers (7 to 30 miles) above the surface, and contains the ozone layer that absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation protecting life at the surface.

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