Scientists Link Faraway Fires To High Ozone Levels In Pacific
NASA-funded scientists have traced the origins of mysterious pockets of high ozone concentrations and low water vapor in the air above the western Pacific Ocean near Guam to fires burning in Southeast Asia and in Africa, half a world away.
These pockets of ozone—a powerful greenhouse gas—are three times more concentrated than surrounding air and are found at around 30,000 feet in the lower part of Earth’s atmosphere known as the troposphere, within the cruising altitude of most commercial airliners. As a greenhouse gas, ozone in the troposphere is an important contributor to global warming, but because it varies widely in where it occurs and how long it stays aloft, its true impact on climate change is hard to determine.
Researchers studying the air over Guam during the winter of 2014 during a pair of airborne field campaigns captured a comprehensive picture of the chemicals traveling with the ozone—chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide and acetonitrile, which originate in fires. Using a data-driven computer model, they then traced the ozone-laden air pockets back 10 to 15 days in most cases—right back to fires in either Southeast Asia, about 2,000 miles away, or tropical Africa, over 8,000 miles away.
Airplane flight footage
This GIF was created from flight footage provided by the Coordinated Airborne Studies in the Tropics (CAST) and CONvective TRansport of Active Species in the Tropics (CONTRAST) aircraft campaigns based in Guam.
Scientists studying the atmosphere over Guam in the Western Pacific Ocean found pockets of ozone and traces of burned vegetation that originated in fires in Southeast Asia and Africa.
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center