Saturday, July 7, 2012

Asian Smoke Reaches the Pacific Northwest

In my previous blog I mentioned that I had been seeing smoke over our region both visually and in satellite pictures, but didn't have time to investigate.  Well, I spent a few minutes looking at it today between household chores...and my conclusion is that we are seeing smoke from Asia that has moved across the Pacific.

First, here is a wonderful MODIS satellite image that shows the smoke yesterday very clearly:


And here is the image this morning from the GOES satellite (visible, high-res)


 This smoke is above the surface in the middle troposphere and is coming from the southwest.   Examining the flow aloft it really appears unlikely to be coming from any of the western U.S. fires...and I will prove that now.

The NOAA Air Resources Lab has a wonderful facility online-their HYSPLIT model in which you can computer air trajectories in time.   Well, I tried this for a point over Seattle at 5000 meters...and traced back the air parcel trajectory back in time over the past 180 hr.

Here is what I got using HYSPLIT.   The air over us can be traced back to Asia at low levels. (Think about that when that next coal-ship leaves a Northwest port to Asia--we ship the coal one way and pollution comes right back!)


In fact, some other modeling systems, such as one using output from ECMWF global model were suggesting the same thing--there are large areas of smoke over Asia that are moving our way (see figure below...aerosol optical depth is a measure of the effects of the smoke on visible light)

It turns out there are massive fires over Asia right now.  NASA tracks the fires from space and here is the latest fire locations:


Take a look at a MODIS satellite image showing smoke, with the red dots showing fire locations--pretty murky.


I believe many of you...particularly those near the coast and northwest Washington will be above to see the smoke, particularly at sunset, where the sun should look redder than normal.  Here is a shot from the cam on top of my building at the UW (the smoke layer is evident).  In fact, I went to Richmond Beach Park on the Sound tonight...the smoke layer was much more dramatic than this photo suggests, and the sun was quite orange-red before it set.


Here is a picture of the smoke near from near the top of Mt. Baker by Lowell Skoog.  Amazing image.


And a picture last night using my smartphone (taken at Richmond Beach Park):


Sunday night update:  here are the trajectories for air ending over Port Angeles, WA at 5000 meter at 11 AM Sunday...still coming from Asia.

 
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39 comments:

Jonathan Edwards said...

Nasty! Up in Birch Bay-Blaine I can say with certainty that the sky is less blue than normal - particularly for the "Blue Hole"! It's almost an slate gray instead of a robin's egg blue. It will be interesting to see if the sunset looks any different tonight.

Unknown said...

that would explain the sunset I saw last night. All red and hazy

Unknown said...

That would explain the haziness and red sunset I saw last night in Kent, WA.

Ben F said...

I was just driving back up to Bellingham and could look directly at the red sun at 8 oclock, a full hour before sunset. There was also a visible haze on the horizon!

dan said...

Thanks, this is great information, and shows just how totally connected in inter-systemic our world is! Great point that coal shipped there would very easily = coal emission pollution (one of the very worst kinds, witness the trees on the crest of the Smokey Mountains) here.

Ferdi said...

This is really disturbing Cliff. I had assumed it was coming from slash burning in British Columbia. But it is so thick and high that your explanation makes more sense.

weaselchicken said...

Definitely a smoky sunset in Port Angeles tonight. Couldn't figure out what fires were west of us, but this explains it.

taylorparsons said...

smell like smoke in Seattle, can't imagine there is a connection

taylorparsons said...

Any chance we can smell the smoke, sure smell like smoke this evening in Seattle

taylorparsons said...

Smells like smoke in Seattle any connection?

taylorparsons said...

Smells like smoke in Seattle any connection?

Mark said...

The sunset was pretty from over Everett on Friday, but the smoke was very visible!

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3546670989549&set=a.3546668469486.2138488.1355777883&type=3&theater

Laurie said...

Couldn't find anything about fires on google, anybody?

mqranch said...

Hi Cliff,
I'm at the foot of the Coast Mountains in central west British Columbia in the Chilcotin. We've had heavy smoke for the past two days to the point that we can barely see the mountains that are only about 30 miles from us. Your suggestion that the smoke is from Asia rather than Colorado as the weatherman on Vancouver news states, makes way more sense. Thanks! JB

mqranch said...

Re Ferdi's comment.
Open burn restrictions go on April first every year in British Columbia which means no slash burning. If you see smoke coming from BC between April and October, it generally means it's a forest fire.

Joseph Chan said...

Will Seattle get some "cooling effect" on the surface due to the smoke above?

(not sure about height of smoke, not top of atmosphere)

Lowell Skoog said...

Thanks Cliff. I climbed Mt Baker with my son on Friday-Saturday and was very puzzled by the haze. It had a smokey appearance, but I couldn't imagine where it had come from. Winds on the mountain Saturday were very strong out of the southwest. Not a direction where any fires are burning right now.

David B. said...

I noticed the smoke while traveling to Portland on Friday evening. Around the south end of Federal Way, it was evident there was a layer of smoke or haze in the sky. We entered it around downtown Tacoma. I suspected it might be something from Asia. It certainly did not look local; way to high up in the atmosphere for that.

Patrick said...

Spectacular orange moon last night. Spectacular sunset tonight. It's a great time to live in Seattle.

Brad said...

half an inch sized hail in Tacoma 12:35 am Monday Morning

Dollmaker Barb said...

Thank you for mentioning the coal trains/shipments suggested for northwest ports. Here in Grays Harbor County, lots of us are working hard to get the word out that coal is NOT a good thing for our coasts!!!

Travis said...

Really red sunset tonight.

Now, thunder and lightning! Saw a big lightning strike in DT Seattle at 0054h PDT.

dlawsster said...

Wow! That was the most spectacular thunderstorm I've ever seen. Any connection to the smoke in the upper atmosphere Professor?

Unknown said...

The smoke seems to be originating from Russia. I spent 5 years living in Khabarovsk in the far east of Russia. They would have forest fires to the north that would ignite the peat in the ground. This would be covered over with snow in the winter but would reignite during the summer with a little wind. I can remember the visibility at the airport being down to 100 feet and no airplanes landing or taking off day after day.

Joe said...

Cliff, how much does the carbon being released by these huge fires in Russia and Asia contribute to global warming and the carbon being released? It would seem to that these fires would be releasing the carbon sequestered in the trees for many decades in a very short time. I suppose if this is a somewhat regular occurance then it would be part of the "naturally occuring" background releases of carbon that would contribute to any normal fluctuations.

Mark said...

Sorry about the link that didn't work because I needed to put it as a public image... Smoke over Everett Friday night and the sunset

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=p.3546670989549&type=3

cdeitrick206 said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed this! Great post! Thanks for writing it!

Kwhitson said...

Spectacular lightning last night. I hope you will discuss it in another post this week, Cliff. In West Seattle, I heard thunder a couple of times, but most flashes were unaccompanied by thunder. This was the second time I've witnessed a silent lightning storm. Last time was over Puget Sound and I was watching from the west side looking toward Seattle (maybe 1991). This time, I was looking west from near Camp Long, across the rest of West Seattle and Puget Sound toward Blake Island. Is it just the wind pattern that carries the thunder away so I can't hear it? Or is it truly silent?

ducttape said...

To Joe's point, I'd like to see some data on how much timber is being burnt up in all those fires compared to the coal burn rate.

Since no data is provided it is hard to draw conclusions about the impact of coal power vs. natural events.

JJ Allen said...

I noticed it here in Lewis County last night when I was out talking pictures of the lightning over Mt Rainier and the Cascades looking across the Chehalis River Valley, I noticed it while using my flashlight seeing the smoke in the beam.

I have the lightning pictures here;
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jj_allen_kmnt/sets/72157630500984562/

ptpro3 said...

Same here, saw lightning all across the Sound, watching from downtown seattle late Sunday night. Several instances were relatively close by and accompanied by thunder as well. Interested to learn what caused this.

RLL said...

It is looking smokey here on the hilltop just south of Chehalis. We cannot see the Black Hills, and barely makeout Mt Rainier. Hillside two miles away is blurred.

Trish said...

The sky has been nasty and hazy in Vancouver, BC too. Sunset have been impressive though. I've only seen sunsets like this once before when there were major fires in the BC interior in 2010, so I was wondering if there were fires nearby... go figure, they're from Asia. Goes well with all the Tsunami debris we're getting too... it's a small world after all...

mb said...

Very smoky over the Olympics and to the west as seen from Port Angeles. But the NOAA smoke map http://www.firedetect.noaa.gov/viewer.htm seems only to show a plume coming down from northern Alberta. Is it built from imagery looking at a different level of the atmosphere?

Chris said...

Pretty amazing the impact the fires in asia are having here.

I'm also interested if you have anything to say about last night's thunderstorm, Cliff. From East Ballard I'd say the lightning occurred roughly every 5 to 10 seconds at the peak and was accompanied by almost continual low-level thunder and one or two rain showers. Almost soothing, really, and quite spectacular at times.

Arinna said...

I got some great photos of the sky last night (http://imgur.com/a/JRX8R), but have been having some allergy-like breathing issues. Is this normal with this much smoke?

Ferdi said...

Thanks Mqranch for the info on BC slash burning.

Very thick haze tonight, July 9th, in the islands. These forest fires in Asia must be epic because I can't remember seeing anything like this blow across the Pacific before.

Ansel said...

I would have thought it was a result of the fires in the Rockies... Another reason not to sell China any coal! Though I guess some of it was natural fires... I noticed the haze but at the time I thought it was humidity.

lesvesla said...

This is spectacular!
Could we use your photos on our siberian news-web-site please? http://sib.fm/

Elena Roor