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

CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Sept. 27

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Racist, homophobic graffiti prominent in downtown Maple Ridge

City councillors up late removing hateful message

Golfer survives major heart attack on Pitt Meadows course

Golfing 9-1-1 operator and others came to his assistance

Local theatre still struggling under COVID-19

How long can show go on for Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows’ cinemas?

LETTER: B.C. Parks need to be a priority in the upcoming election

Maple Ridge writer feels a more effort must be dedicated to preserving and upkeeping parks

B.C.’s top doctor encourages Halloween costumes to include masks

Dr. Bonnie Henry will soon be releasing guidelines on how to safely trick-or-treat this Halloween

B.C. VOTES 2020: Few solutions offered for ‘out of control’ camping

B.C. Liberals, NDP spend millions as problem keeps growing

Surrey’s Rialto Theatre shutters after 200% rent increase imposed

Owner says he’s devastated by the closure of the 26-year-old business

Federal child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

Horgan frustrated as Transport Canada mandate for BC Ferry riders returns

Transport Canada reinstates rule that bans passengers from lower decks

Most Read