Story at a glance
- Smoke from the California, Oregon and Washington fires has moved eastward all the way to Europe.
- The air quality is still safe, but carbon monoxide released from the fire can remain in the atmosphere for about a month.
Satellite imagery reveals that the massive smoke from the wildfires that have devastated West Coast states like California, Oregon and Washington have drifted as far east as Europe.
The Earth is very interconnected - smoke from the western USA's wildfires is now drifting over Europe and beyond https://t.co/gYwKLdBCYL— Ed Mitchard ️ (@EdMitchard) September 12, 2020
Residents on the East Coast of the U.S. noticed hazy skies earlier this week as a result of wildfire smoke drifting across the country. Cities like New York, Washington D.C., Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore have all witnessed smoggy conditions.
Now, plumes have made the transatlantic journey to Europe, thanks to the jet stream moving over the northern part of the U.S.
The Los Angeles Times reports that smoke churning out from the West Coast has been reported in the Netherlands and in Hamburg, Germany. NASA also confirmed the smoke’s eastward path.
“The intense heat from the wildfires lofted the carbon monoxide high into the atmosphere, enabling detection by the AIRS instrument,” NASA wrote in a statement. “The jet stream then blew the carbon monoxide plume eastward across the U.S. and over the Atlantic Ocean.”
The smoke from the western US wildfires has even reached the Netherlands (see Reeuwijk Lakes below), turning the sky is grey instead of blue. Confirmed to come from there by satellite and lidar observations, it is the layer above 6km height. Made worse by climate change. @KNMI pic.twitter.com/ZMRZkSIvuf— Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (@gjvoldenborgh) September 11, 2020
While the fires have tanked air quality along the West Coast, forcing residents to remain inside whenever possible, the East Coast and Europe are largely spared from breathing in severe quantities of pollutants. This does not mean that the air quality is healthy, however.
NASA released images tracking carbon monoxide stemming from California wildfires and its movement across Earth. While the carbon monoxide is seated high in the atmosphere, outside of the breathing range of humans, it has potential to fall.
“At the high altitude...the gas has little effect on the air we breathe; however, strong winds can carry it downwards to where it can significantly impact air quality,” scientists wrote. “Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and climate change.”
Even when the skies have cleared and when the fires are contained, officials note that carbon monoxide can linger in the atmosphere for roughly a month and can continue to travel.
The regions grappling with the worst air quality are those closest to the flames. Images of California’s creepy red-orange skies have made rounds on social media, and state and city governments have issued smoke advisories advising residents in affected areas to remain indoors.
In Portland, Ore., an area with usually clean skies, is suffering from air conditions ranging from “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy.”
Some meteorologists have forecasted that this weather will not improve until October, including particulate matter still floating in the atmosphere.