Wildfires in Africa Behind Global Cooling, Study Says

White clouds on a summer sky

A new study suggests that the wildfires in South Africa may explain the recent episodes of global cooling.

Past studies have shown that clouds can reflect sunlight and keep the planet cool. When the atmosphere is heavily polluted, those clouds can no longer reflect sunlight and the planet gets warmer.

A new study suggests that there’s a way for the planet to cool down even when there is heavy atmospheric pollution. Researchers found that the wildfires in the central and southern parts of Africa generate so much smoke that it affects all the gathering of clouds worldwide.

The study which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that wind takes the African smoke westward above the Atlantic where it affects the clouds’ reflectivity.

Past studies have shown that smoke from wildfires can reduce the cooling effect of clouds located just beneath it, by absorbing the light. Researchers found that the smoke and clouds closely interact in the process.

Wildfire Smoke Can Alter Clouds’ Makeup

Smoke which is made of aerosols contaminates the clouds and their microscopic makeup. Past studies have ignored the changes in the clouds at microscopic level. Clouds grow when there is a ‘seed’ around which water droplets can gather.

Aerosols in smoke are perfect “seeds” for clouds, which prompt more water droplets to condense and make cloud denser. As a result, more sunlight is reflected, which leads to a stronger cooling effect.

Researchers found that heavy smoke boosts the number of cloud seeds by twofold. The seeding effect leads to a cooling effect that past studies have largely overlooked.

The team underlined that the study does not advocate for wildfires, since they are local phenomena with devastating long-term effects. The carbon dioxide footprint from a major wildfire can last for hundreds of years.
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