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

School district #54 works on school plan

School district officials and teachers are this week communicating plans to resume… Continue reading

Closures and cancellations in the Bulkley Valley due to COVID-19

Many places and businesses have closed or reduced their hours

UPDATE: Man drowns crossing Skeena River

59-year old Prince Rupert victim pronounced dead at Mills Memorial

Better COVID-19 testing results needed in the north

Former senior Northern Health official also wants work camps shut down

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

Health-care workers, seniors, Indigenous Peoples some of people most at risk, health officials say

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

High cost, limited coverage for asthma medicine a concern during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man says he skips puffs to save money, but others have it worse

B.C. man sick with COVID-19 calls it a ‘horrible disease’

Tim Green says he has ‘extreme coughing fits every hour’ to clear his lungs

Trudeau says Parliament needs to sit to pass expanded COVID-19 benefits

Wage subsidy program has been greatly expanded since it was first approved

UPDATE: Anti-tax group calls for MPs, senators to donate scheduled pay raises to charity

Bill C-30, adopted 15 years ago, mandates the salary and allowance increases each calendar year

Liberals delay release of 75% wage subsidy details, costs: Morneau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

World COVID-19 update: NATO suspicious of Russian military drills; Cruise ships ordered to stay at sea

Comprehensive update of coronavirus news from around the world for Wednesday, April 1

John Horgan extends B.C.’s state of emergency for COVID-19

Premier urges everyone to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice

Most Read