January 07, 2020 - As wildfires blaze across Australia, smoke from unprecedented flames has traveled thousands of miles across the ocean to Chile. The plumes crossed 11,000 kilometers (6,800 miles) over the Pacific Ocean to the South American nation, moving on what is known as a trough or channel of low atmospheric pressure, newsweek.com reported.
Edita Amador, a meteorologist for Chile's Weather Directorate, told the Australian Associated Press she expects the cloud to head towards Argentina in the coming days. She explained it may form a "cap" over the land, which could reduce ultraviolet radiation levels on the ground. Amador said the smoke should not cause problems as it rarely rains in the affected area.
The blazes, which have been burning across the country for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across Australia, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned – much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country's beloved and unique wildlife, CNN reported.
Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in New South Wales alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs – meaning the true number is likely much higher.
The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.
On Monday, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted a satellite image showing two areas of smoke from the bushfires, heading towards South America.
"The smoke is in the process of circumnavigating the #planet," it wrote.
The mass of particles had previously turned skies above New Zealand orange, as the country deals with its own bushfires. On Sunday, New Zealand's Met Service shared a satellite image showing "a significant cloud of smoke blowing over New Zealand from Australia." It said, "This has led to the widespread reports of orange skies today."
This satellite loop shows a significant cloud of smoke blowing over New Zealand from Australia. This has led to the widespread reports of orange skies.
As well painting skies an eerie color, the fires have pumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In mid-December, Niels Andela, a scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre who works on the Global Fire Emissions Database, told The Guardian the fires had released the equivalent of almost half of the country's annual CO2 emissions since August. The 250 million metric tons came from fires in New South Wales and Queensland. Since then, data suggests 349 million metric tons have been let off.
Scientists working with the database make their calculations using satellite data on burning areas and past estimates on emissions from fires. At the time, Andela said the method is still being developing meaning it presents uncertainties, but that approach is "widely applied."
According to Andela, since August 1 fires in New South Wales have released 260 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, 9 million metric tons in Victoria, 4 million metric tons in South Australia, and 76 million metric tons in Queensland.
He said plants usually soak up CO2 emissions from grassland and savanna fires. But it could be decades before scorched forests grow back and regain the ability to absorb greenhouse gases.
As of Tuesday evening in Australia, the Australian Associated Press reported bushfires continued to ravage Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.