Outbreaks of fire thunderstorms may change Earths climate, experts say

'Fire thunderstorms', which occur during bushfires creating a huge cloud of smoke and ash high in the sky, may be powerful enough to change the climate, scientists have warned.

During Australia's devastating summer of fires in 2019 and 2020, a 'super-outbreak' of fire thunderstorms, also known as 'pyroCb events', released the same amount of energy as 2,000 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons, ABC reports.

Rick McRae, co-author of the study that found these explosive findings, said: "The energy released was just vast.

"It doesn't matter what units you use, they're big numbers, far bigger than we're used to handling."

A fire thunderstorm begins when a bushfire becomes so severe that it changes the dynamics of "vast areas of the atmosphere" – forming a huge cloud that injects smoke and ash far up into the stratosphere.

A team of scientists from the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington said the Australian fires injected as much smoke into the stratosphere as a "moderately sized volcanic eruption".

Dr Mike Fromm, an atmospheric scientist, said the smoke and ash results in a cooling effect which could lead to the"nuclear winter" theory becoming reality.

"Nuclear winter was a hypothesis that, if you had sufficient numbers of urban fires lit by an atomic blast, then you would get a plume [of smoke and ash] that was dark enough and massive enough to last in the stratosphere and cool the climate," he said.

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"It stood as a theory, and theory only, until we identified the pyroCb phenomenon and [recorded bushfire] smoke in the stratosphere."

Scientists have confirmed that smoke and ash has changed Earth's climate before.

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When a volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1985, Mount Tamobra, the cooling effect caused a 'volcanic winter', which led to food shortages across the world.

The amount of fire thunderstorms seems to be worryingly growing every year.

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"This year, here in North America, we're seeing pyroCbs almost every day," said Canadian fire expert Mike Flannigan from the University of Alberta.

"They're commonplace now. Before, they were like, 'Oh, that's really an extreme event'."

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