For days now the world has been watching as the Amazon suffers a major blow thanks to a record number of wildfires that have scorched huge swaths of the rainforest. These fires started back in August 13th, 2019, and have since been reported all across the South American continent, affecting all sectors of the Amazon, including those areas of the rainforest that neighbor Brazil. And as outrage from both the public and world leaders continues to be echoed all across both social media platforms and protests in cities around the world, questions have been raised regarding to why these fires occurred at the intensity and sheer size that they did and whether or not the biome will be at greater risk for these sorts of extreme fire seasons in the near-future.
Fires that have been reported in the Amazon from August 13th to August 26th of 2019. Source: Business Insider
Fires are nothing new to the Amazon Basin; the area experiences natural wildfires every year owing to recurring phenomena such as dry spells and lightning strikes. Unfortunately, the region has experienced a sharp increase in annual wildfire episodes not only due to climate change but also due to man-made ones. Deforestation is nothing new and has been rampant in the region for decades as private investors, cattle ranchers, and loggers all converge over large areas of the rainforest and continually remove acres of land on a daily basis by means that include everything from chopping down trees to starting legal (and illegal) forest fires. Indeed, the loose government regulations owing to Brazil’s current administration along with dry spells over the basin have exasperated this year’s number of wildfires to levels that surpass those seen in 2016 and most of this decade.
The fires have indeed gotten so out of control over the Amazon Basin that their sheer size and magnitude are even visible from space, as satellite imagery has suggested. As such, smoke has plagued nearly the entire country of Brazil, with its largest city, Sao Paulo, experiencing intensive cloud cover and dark skies as a result.
Clear skies over the central Amazon basin in July 2019 juxtaposed with much hazier/smoky conditions over the exact same area the following month. Source: CNN/NOAA
Dark skies in the middle of the day over Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 19th, 2019. Source: Business Insider
Outrage over these wildfires has been noted at the local and national level in Brazil as environmental activists have called out President Bolsonaro and his administration for loosening regulations that would otherwise defend more of the Amazon Rainforest by protesting on the streets of several major Brazilian cities including Sao Paulo. Many protesters and activists have also argued that the current administration has essentially been downplaying most of what has been occurring over the last few weeks, resulting in Bolsonaro suggesting that it’s actually the environmentalists that have started several of the recent wildfires(https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-rainforest-photos-before-after-wildfires-2019-8#environmental-activists-have-been-fighting-to-save-the-rainforest-for-years-here-a-greenpeace-protest-calls-deforestation-a-crime-near-the-brazilian-town-of-claudia-mato-gross-in-2005-23). As for global reactions to the situation, world activists including Leonardo DiCaprio and Shakira have commented on the events that are unfolding in the Amazon and have donated to help fight the wildfires. Moreover, world leaders recently held a G7 Summit in which they have promised to also donate money and provide emergency services to Brazil.
As the rest of the world looks on at what’s currently taking place in the Amazon, many have started to ask how they and their communities can help to preserve the rainforest. Several accredited organizations are out there and have been included in this article. For more information on how you can donate to services committed to help with this crisis,visit:https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/08/241249/amazon-rainforest-fires-how-to-help-donate-organizations
©2019 Meteorologist Gerardo Diaz Jr.
Volcanic Eruptions Can Reduce Global Average Temperature (Credit: UCAR and Meteorology Today by C. Ahrens)
Volcanic eruptions have the potential to change the global average temperature and have done so in the past. There are just two important factors that can make this happen. These eruptions have to be massive and the spewed contents need to have a significant amount of sulfur dioxide and ash. One evident example of this is what is famously known as “The year without a summer”.
The year 1816 was notoriously known for its cold and gloomy summer, where overcast skies and rain was frequent. In order to explain the cold summer event, scientists researched global climatic changes and events over the past year. It was discovered that this massive eruption became the main cause of 1816’s chilly summer. On April 5th, 1815, Mt. Tambora in Indonesia erupted. The build up, however, took a staggering four months as ash and dust spewed high into the atmosphere, blocking out the sun. Based on its duration and magnitude, this eruption was dubbed the largest in recorded history. As the ash spewed into the air, debris that didn’t fall back to the ground was picked up by the trade winds and circulated around the world; a process that takes months. By the time the summer of 1816 came around, the global average temperature had decreased by about three degrees Celsius.
The small particles of ash from the eruption travel around the globe becoming perfect condensation nuclei for water vapor. Condensation nuclei is a term to explain how the particles of ash act as an object the water vapor in the air can easily attach to. The process of collision continues to grow the piece of ash into a water droplet. This occurs when more droplets of water continue to attach to the particle by colliding into it as it gets pushed around by the movement of air. Eventually, all the ash in the air will collect into a bigger droplet of vapor and form a cloud. With more ash in the air, this process increases cloud cover in the atmosphere and leads to increased precipitation. Clouds are notorious for blocking out the sun. In the case of the year 1816, this is exactly what happened. Most of the summer was cloudy and rainy.
Sulfur Dioxide, a gas released during volcanic eruptions, also combines with water vapor in the atmosphere. When this happens the chemicals react and the droplets of water vapor become droplets of sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is a great sunlight reflector. Naturally in our atmosphere, Sulfuric Acid is known as a coolant, contributing to the cooling of the earth's surface. With an increased amount of Sulfuric Acid in the atmosphere, the more likely it is to increase the cooling process. With the 1815 eruption, Mt. Tambora caused a significant amount of Sulfuric Acid to form. It takes about three years for Sulfuric Acid to collect into rain droplets and rain out of the atmosphere. So, with the highest content of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere the following year along with the increased cloud cover from the microparticles, the global average temperature decreased.
Another example of volcanic eruption that changed global average temperature occurred in 1991. Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed an estimated 20 million tons of Sulfur Dioxide into the atmosphere. Model predictions were in agreement that the global average temperature had dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius and the following two years recorded below average temperatures around the world. This eruption was not nearly as big as the eruption of Mt. Tambora. However, it was still a large eruption that had a significant effect on the global average temperature.
It is very interesting how much one large eruption has an effect on our atmosphere. The effect made by Mt. Tambora was certainly the largest in recorded history. Although uncertain and difficult to predict, it is possible that another eruption could occur at some point in the future which may also have an effect on the global average temperature. There are still plenty of active volcanoes to this day that record seismic activity and/or spew lava and ash on occasion. Even after blowing its top in 1815, Mt. Tambora is one of the few/many volcanoes still active to this day.
To learn more about our atmosphere and climate, click here.
© 2019 Meteorologist Alexandria Maynard
Painting by Edvard Munch in 1893
Discussion: Nature and art go hand in hand. Many choose to express their feeling of appreciation, awe, or perhaps fear of nature through artwork, whether that be protruding jagged mountains, deep canyons, lush fields, intense sculpted thunderstorms, the list goes on. The painting above, by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in 1893, is no different. A specific natural event in history 10 years prior to this painting may have inspired portions of the sky in this iconic image, in addition to a rare type of cloud. That event was the eruption of the volcano Krakatau in 1883. Whether or not this was the exact inspiration behind the artwork, volcanoes do create stunning sunsets as well as other climatic influences.
Volcanic eruptions have a variety of climate impacts across the globe. Perhaps the most noteworthy influence is global cooling as solar radiation is blocked by ash and sulfur compounds shot into the stratosphere. These compounds also reflect blue light leaving the more vibrant red and orange colors on display. As a result, incredible sunsets with vivid red and orange coloring become more likely after a volcanic eruption. One example is shown below.
Sunset Madison, Wisconsin July 1982 after the El Chichón eruption. Photograph by Alan Robock, Professor Rutgers University
Here’s where the painting comes into play. The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 was powerful enough to inject large amounts of ash and sulfur into the atmosphere which circled the globe for years after the eruption. The climate was temporarily altered, the Earth was cooled, and the sunsets were perhaps vibrant enough for Edvard Munch to describe them as nature/the sky screaming. See for yourself below how this was expressed by Munch:
“I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
There is no way to know exactly what inspired Munch. There has been a new theory proposed by a few scientists about the true influence behind “The Scream”. The wavy like pattern of the sky/clouds in the painting seem to resemble the rare stratospheric clouds named nacreous or otherwise known as “mother of pearl” clouds. These clouds certainly could have a philosophical impact on someone.
Photo: Simon A
This photograph shows polar stratospheric clouds lit from below near Kiruna, Sweden.
Image credit: NASA/Lamont Poole
“We don’t know if Munch painted exactly what he saw,” Rutgers Professor Alan Robock said. “He could have been influenced by the Krakatau sunset and nacreous clouds and combined them. The Krakatau sunset was several years before he made the painting, but he still may have remembered it. We have to remember that he is an artist. That face in the foreground [of the painting] is not a face, why should we trust that the sky is exactly what he saw. Maybe he combined his feelings that he got from different skies and put it together in a picture”.
Regardless of the exact reason behind Munch’s painting, volcanic eruptions do have a large impact on the climate. For example, patterns in large scale climate oscillations (North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation), summer cooling, winter warming, to name a few, among others. More on the volcanic aspect will be covered in the future, be sure to visit GWCC’s climate section here to watch out for these additional pieces!
©2019 Meteorologist Joe DeLizio
Polar Strat Images:
(Multiple sources have slight variations of the wording of this quote but express the same notion).
Portions of Dr Alan Robock’s Quotes:
He made an appearance on The Weather Channel explaining “The Scream” and the new and old theories.