Smoke from 2017 B.C. wildfires helps research on potential impact of nuclear war

The smoke formed the largest cloud of its kind ever observed, says a study published in Science

A wildfire is seen from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau views areas affected by wildfire near Williams Lake, B.C., on Monday July 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Unprecedented smoke from B.C.’s wildfires in 2017 is helping scientists model the potential impacts of nuclear war on the Earth’s climate, says a study from Rutgers University.

The enormous plume of smoke formed the largest cloud of its kind ever observed, which circled the Northern Hemisphere, says the study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed academic journal Science.

The cloud, called a pyrocumulonimbus, formed over the wildfire and sent black carbon high into the atmosphere, said the study’s co-author Alan Robock, a distinguished professor in the department of environmental sciences at Rutgers in New Jersey.

The scientists used a climate model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the U.S. to forecast the movement of the dark cloud high into the Earth’s stratosphere, where there is no rain, Robock said.

“This smoke that lofted up, that’s what our climate models told us would happen if we put smoke in (the model) as a result of fires from burning cities and industrial areas as if there was a nuclear war,” said Robock.

The smoke lasted more than eight months in the stratosphere, where there is no rain to wash it away, the study said.

When soot heats up and extends higher into the stratosphere, the process is known as self-lofting, it said.

“We had never observed it actually happen,” said Robock. “This natural occurrence validated what we had done before in our climate models, so it gave us more confidence that what we were doing was correct.”

The team of researchers, including Robock, plugged the data from the B.C. wildfires into their software and successfully compared the real and the projected results, validating their ongoing climate modeling.

Robock has been studying and modeling the potential impacts of a so-called nuclear winter since 1984. Even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan would, for example, send soot into the stratosphere, causing unprecedented climatic cooling, he said.

“The temperatures wouldn’t get below freezing in the summer like they would with a war between the United States and Russia. But it would still have devastating effects on agriculture around the world, far removed from where the bombs were dropped,” said Robock, who added that global cooling as a result of nuclear war is by no means a solution to the global heating occurring today.

FROM 2017: Five before-and-after photos of the B.C. wildfire smoke

In the case of nuclear winter resulting from a nuclear war between large superpowers, Robock said temperatures would dip below freezing in the summertime and stay there for years, causing starvation as agriculture grinds to a halt around the world.

The wildfire smoke cloud contained 0.3 million U.S. tons of soot, while a nuclear war between the United States and Russia could generate 150 million tons, Robock said.

READ MORE: App converts B.C. air quality to cigarettes smoked

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

B.C. wildfires 2017

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Chemainus artist’s painting of a front-line worker a powerful image

Chemainus artist puts her creative touch to COVID Angel

Drivesmart column: Traffic calming in your neighbourhood

Since the police are only part of the solution, what are the alternatives?

COVID-19 means different graduations for Cowichan students in 2020

At Lake Cowichan students did the traditional hat toss

Mary Lowther column: Pre-sprouting corn in paper towels

My new packet of spinach didn’t grow when I put the seeds directly into potting soil

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Annual music event in Comox Valley celebrates online instead

Vancouver Island MusicFest holds virtual celebration set for July 10

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Most Read