It’s spring, in the Northern Hemisphere and that means planting crops. Some agricultural techniques involve burning the landscape as a means to clear the landscape (and add a little bit of natural fertilizer). In a number of places, slash-and-burn techniques are common. You may be used to seeing some smoke in the sky in Florida as a result of controlled burns as a fire prevention technique. In most cases, those efforts only affect a limited portion of the surrounding area and do not result in massive amounts of smoke being transported large distances. Large-scale slash-and-burn efforts produce much more smoke, burn hotter, and can lift the smoke much higher into the atmosphere, where it can be caught up by larger wind circulations. Currently in Central America and Mexico, this practice is in full swing and the resulting smoke plumes are being transported across the Gulf of Mexico and floating over the Florida peninsula. So, if you’ve noticed a red tint to the skies locally, some of that haze is high up in the atmosphere and originated in Central America. The image below shows the smoke plume pretty easily.
Obviously, all this burning releases CO2 in the atmosphere as well. Climate Change models need to account for this in order to have a reliable output. Many efforts are involved to do just that. Fortunately, it is possible to monitor these activities remotely.
Ken Nash, Director, Physical Sciences and Climatology