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

Just Posted

Salvation Army’s Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser in Salmon Arm welcomes you

Make community connections while taking a walk and contributing to $35,000 goal

Letter: South Shuswap incorporation a foregone conclusion?

Writer overwhelmed with information at committee meeting

Snapshot: Valentine’s donations to Shuswap organizations

Shuswap SPCA, SAFE Society receive some love from SASCU Insurance

Sniffing out options for expansion of Salmon Arm’s sewage treatment plant

Public presented with nine site possibilities at open house, feedback to help narrow options

Video: Shuswap man narrowly avoids accident on Highway 1

Dash camera video clearly records sounds of burning rubber during abrupt stop

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Shuswap history in pictures: Fire at AL Fortune

Images from May 1975 blaze at Enderby school

Kelowna RCMP arrest alleged impaired driver

The driver is facing potential charges after power pole collision

South Okanagan mountain bore racist name for a half century

Nkawala Mountain was initially named in connection with the deaths of two black men.

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

BC Ferries sailings filling up Family Day Monday

More than 20 sailings added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for long weekend

UBCO announces new top boss for Okanagan campus

Lesley Cormack will start in the position this summer

Nine West Kelowna athletes to go to B.C. Winter Games

The athletes will compete in biathlon and cross country ski

Most Read