As wildfires continue to consume massive swathes of California and the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington, experts have warned that the impacts of the fires are unprecedented and provide a sharp warning of things to come.
In California, no less than 3.1 million acres – almost 5,000 square miles – have burned, an alarming start to a record-shattering fire season that is likely to continue for at least another four months.
And as cities across the West Coast have seen their skies turned an apocalyptic orange and red by the over 85 major fires burning throughout the region, parts of Oregon are experiencing a major drop in air quality that has gone far beyond merely “hazardous,” with implications that remain unknown, reports Grist.
While EPA Air Quality Index (AQI) measures max out at 500, the region surrounding Eugene, Oregon, shot deep into the 700 range, meaning that the ash and fine particulate matter from the wildfires is likely flooding the lungs and even bloodstreams of local residents, fueling the risk of major respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
The suffocating plumes of smoke from the West Coast have even extended over a thousand miles across the North Atlantic ocean to parts of the UK, reports the Daily Mail. On Friday, fire smoke produced hazy skies and an orange glow over parts of Ireland and Britain, with atmospheric physicist Hugo Ricketts noting that “there was definitely a slight red tint to the sun over Manchester.”
The brutal inferno that is expanding across the west coast has seen no precedent in scope and scale in modern history, and experts warn that the resulting environmental changes more than doubles the number of extreme wildfire risks.
At least three of the big wildfires over the past three weeks have produced massive fire tornadoes, according to radar data. Meanwhile, tremendous clouds of ash and smoke are generating lightning as wildfire plumes tower as high up as 10 miles, far above the tornadic thunderstorms that ravage states like Oklahoma and Kansas every spring, reports Washington Post.
Just when you think 2020 can't get any worse. Fire tornado somewhere in California.
Posted by KBER 101 on Friday, September 11, 2020
The rapidly expanding fires are spawning a number of (literally) breathtaking “fire clouds” or pyrocumulus clouds, according to images from space collected by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites. NASA refers to pyrocumulonimbus as “the fire breathing dragon of clouds,” and notes that they are created when wind, rain, smoke and fire mix over thousands of burning acres. These thunder clouds are triggered by the heat and moisture kicked into the atmosphere by fires, and the fire clouds also send massive amounts of pollutants into the upper atmosphere.
According to Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric sciences in the department of physics at the University of Nevada at Reno, the fire clouds are dramatic indicators of extreme fire behavior which themselves can add explosive energy to the ongoing fires, including lethal fire vortices like tornadoes that can incinerate entire communities and create a deadly hazard for firefighters.
Expressing shock about the massive height of the plumes, Lareau said: “Anecdotally, this is the deepest that I’ve seen … It’s about a solid 10,000 feet higher than we’re typically seeing with the highest of these plumes.”
The extreme height of the clouds is a testament to the incredible spread of the fires and resulting release of heat, he added.
“[That], as well as the large burning area, results in the total amount of heat being injected into the atmosphere just being tremendous,” he said.
Looking back at the #CreekFire's big run up to Mammoth Pool: Here is a radar animation of the explosive #pyroCb plume development. This plume was massive, producing multiple pushes above 12 Km. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/lHK8Sud7jd
— Neil Lareau (@nplareau) September 9, 2020
The “tremendous plume depth” was made worse by the unsparing heatwave in parts of California, Lareau added. Last weekend, temperatures in the Los Angeles metropolitan region climbed past 121F (49.4C).
“We have a ton of eyes on every fire, looking at every frame, but still, we weren’t seeing these before,” he said, referring to towering fire clouds and numerous fire tornadoes. “And we’re seeing all too much of it right now. It’s rather worrying.”
The terrifying nature of the fires are still extremely foreign and shocking to experts, Lareau noted.
“These are still real outlier events,” he said. “The way I’ve been trying to think about it, if it’s a 1 in 100 event, now we have, what, 7,000 fires on the landscape? The opportunity to experience these extremes of fire weather are off the charts right now.”
Lareau hopes that authorities can begin to take the threat posed by the fires more seriously and begin funding ways to collect vital data behind the science of these wildfires as they become increasingly normalized.
“We really need to advance our understanding about what’s going on with the high-end fires,” he said.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.