The smoke from the devastating wild fires in Alberta, Canada, could be seen moving towards the North Atlantic on 9 May.
22 October 2020
08 May 2016
By Jose Prieto and Sancha Lancaster (EUMETSAT), HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland)
On 30 April a fire started in the oil city of Fort McMurray in Alberta province, Canada.
It quickly became a huge, raging wildfire and by 9 May more than 80,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray, and it was still spreading.
The MODIS image from 8 May at 16:45 UTC (Figure 1), shows smoke west of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.
The small smoke particles (PM2.5) were forecast to revolve around central Canada and northern central USA on 9 May. Forecast courtesy of the Western Canada BlueSky Smoke Forecasting System, operating at the University of British Columbia.
The Meteosat-10 image from 9 May, 11:30 UTC (Figure 2) showed the smoke was entrapped by the cyclonic circulation close to the eastern Canadian coast and moving over the North Atlantic. The smoke appears as pink in the infrared window composite (also called the 'dust' composite).
The sources of smoke are oil sands which have been reached by the flames. Oil sands are a naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay, and water, saturated with a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum technically referred to as bitumen (or colloquially as tar). The smoke can show even in infrared channels, and appear as pink in the infrared window composite, when it is made of large particles. Possibly the bituminous source of this smoke and the strong fire intensity injected particles into the middle troposphere, which travelled far from the origin to end up engulfed in the frontal systems on the same day.
The fires are predicted to keep burning for weeks, or, perhaps, even for months. It should be possible, depending on cloud cover, to use satellite imagery to continue to track evolution of the smoke over the coming weeks, as it is driven by northern hemisphere circulation.
The fires were still raging in late May. The Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB image from 22 May (Figure 3) shows the smoke (indicated by the red arrows) had crossed the North Atlantic, passing the west coast of the UK and on to the Mediterranean.
Fort McMurray Fire, Alberta Canada (25 May) (NOAA)
Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfire (CIMSS Blog)
Fires Continue in Fort McMurray (NASA Earth Observatory)
The Fort McMurray Wildfire, As Seen From Space (The Weather Channel)
Canada wildfire: Alberta blaze threatens neighbouring province (BBC News)
BlueSky Canada Smoke Forecast, Daily Runs
Previous case study
Smoke from Canadian fires seen over Europe (13 June 2015)
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