Tag Archives: Smoke

Funeral smoke adds to South Asia’s woes

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

Australian forests’ smoke climbed 20 miles in 2019

Blazing Australian forests made their mark high in the stratosphere and cast a cloud that lingered for months.

LONDON, 4 November, 2020 − Australian forests, devoured by devastating wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer, set a new high − a huge smoke cloud that soared more than 20 miles into the upper atmosphere and stayed there for months.

An international team of scientists reports in the Nature journal Communications Earth and Environment that they tracked the cloud to an altitude of 35 kilometres (21 miles).

They measured it as 1,000 kms (625 miles) across. They followed it around the planet for 66,000 kms (41,010 miles). And they confirm that it remained intact for three months.

This high-flying pollution wasn’t the first such instance: just three times the size of any observed predecessor. Until now the record was held by plumes soaring from forest fires in western Canada in 2017.

Growing intensity

“When I saw the satellite measurement of the smoke plume at 35 kms, it was jaw-dropping. I never would have expected that”, said Adam Bourassa of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, one of the researchers.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires. Knowing that they’re likely to strike more frequently and with more intensity due to climate change, we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere.”

A blaze that can make a new cloud 35 kms above its surface is an indicator both of the potential devastation of climate change driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and of the intricate workings of the biosphere and atmosphere.

After months of desperate drought in 2019, eastern Australia effectively caught fire. Around 110,000 sq kms of bush, forest and grassland went up in smoke: with them went thousands of homes and millions of wild and domestic animals. Altogether 33 people died.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires … we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere”

So huge and sustained were the fires, and so dense the smoke, that the fires began to generate their own thunderstorms, known as pyrocumulonimbus, to create powerful updrafts to carry the aerosols and soot far above the flight paths of the highest jet airliners.

Researchers from France, the UK and Canada used sensitive satellite readings to track the sustained smoke signal from a part-incinerated island: at altitude, it was still dense enough to absorb, scatter and weaken the sunlight falling on the Earth below.

“What was also really amazing was that as the smoke sits in the atmosphere, it starts to absorb sunlight and so it starts to heat up,” Professor Bourassa said.

“And then, because it’s getting hotter, it starts to rise in a swirling vortex bubble, and it just rose higher and higher through the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Blazing Australian forests made their mark high in the stratosphere and cast a cloud that lingered for months.

LONDON, 4 November, 2020 − Australian forests, devoured by devastating wildfires in the last southern hemisphere summer, set a new high − a huge smoke cloud that soared more than 20 miles into the upper atmosphere and stayed there for months.

An international team of scientists reports in the Nature journal Communications Earth and Environment that they tracked the cloud to an altitude of 35 kilometres (21 miles).

They measured it as 1,000 kms (625 miles) across. They followed it around the planet for 66,000 kms (41,010 miles). And they confirm that it remained intact for three months.

This high-flying pollution wasn’t the first such instance: just three times the size of any observed predecessor. Until now the record was held by plumes soaring from forest fires in western Canada in 2017.

Growing intensity

“When I saw the satellite measurement of the smoke plume at 35 kms, it was jaw-dropping. I never would have expected that”, said Adam Bourassa of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, one of the researchers.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires. Knowing that they’re likely to strike more frequently and with more intensity due to climate change, we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere.”

A blaze that can make a new cloud 35 kms above its surface is an indicator both of the potential devastation of climate change driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and of the intricate workings of the biosphere and atmosphere.

After months of desperate drought in 2019, eastern Australia effectively caught fire. Around 110,000 sq kms of bush, forest and grassland went up in smoke: with them went thousands of homes and millions of wild and domestic animals. Altogether 33 people died.

“We’re seeing records broken in terms of the impact on the atmosphere from these fires … we could end up with a pretty dramatically changed atmosphere”

So huge and sustained were the fires, and so dense the smoke, that the fires began to generate their own thunderstorms, known as pyrocumulonimbus, to create powerful updrafts to carry the aerosols and soot far above the flight paths of the highest jet airliners.

Researchers from France, the UK and Canada used sensitive satellite readings to track the sustained smoke signal from a part-incinerated island: at altitude, it was still dense enough to absorb, scatter and weaken the sunlight falling on the Earth below.

“What was also really amazing was that as the smoke sits in the atmosphere, it starts to absorb sunlight and so it starts to heat up,” Professor Bourassa said.

“And then, because it’s getting hotter, it starts to rise in a swirling vortex bubble, and it just rose higher and higher through the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network