Smoke from Australian Wildfires Detected by Satellites over South America

The smoke traveled nearly 12,070 kilometers across the South Pacific Ocean.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Australia's wildfires have been devastating the country and it has been estimated that they have already emitted more than half of the country’s 2018 annual carbon dioxide emissions. But it's not just Australia that is being affected by these fires.


Traveling fires

Smoke from the wildfires has now been spotted all the way over the South Pacific Ocean in parts of South America, satellite imagery revealed Monday morning. NOAA's GOES-East high-resolution visible satellite imagery detected smoke from the Australian wildfires over parts of Chile and Argentina and over the Pacific coast of southern Chile.

This means the smoke traveled nearly 12,070 kilometers across the South Pacific Ocean. The NOAA said in their Tweet that the smoke is in the process of circumnavigating the planet.

Meanwhile, the Suomi NPP satellite showed the Australian smoke plume making its way across the Pacific Ocean, from December 30 through Sunday this week. There were several smoke plumes originating from Australia. Aside from the one heading to South America, another thick plume headed to New Zealand last weekend, where it brought with it an orange hue.

Size of particles

"The hotter the fire, the higher the smoke plume can penetrate into the atmosphere," said Heather Holmes, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and expert in air pollution in an interview with

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"If the smoke is injected higher into the atmosphere, it will be transported further." 

Holmes also added that the size of particles in plumes was crucial to how far they could travel.

"If you have really large ash particles, those drop out sooner. Smaller particles, including gases condensed into particles, can stay in the atmosphere longer."