12 September 2009

NT/QLD Gulf country

Below is the Aqua MODIS image for 11 September 2009 at 0405 utc, about 1330/1400 LT showing extensive smoke plumes from several large, rapidly expanding (in some cases) bushfires to the south of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The two large, smoky fires are in the NT, the other smoke area is in QLD. Click on the image for a larger view.

The image is rotated from the typical view, so that north is slightly askew (the yellow arrow). A very approximate scale is shown at the bottom and the 'B' in the centre is Booroloola more or less; don't bet your life on these, but they're generally OK and do give an indication of the scale of the image.

The large fire on the left and the one in the centre have started in the last 2-3 days. On the image in a 3-days ago post, no hotspots were indicated in this area. Interestingly, there was a field of cumulus clouds over the area with perhaps a few deeper, better developed clouds, suggesting perhaps a lightning origin of these fires. No rain was reported in the area, but there aren't a lot of stations, either...IN any case, the smoke looks quite dense, and the north-western fire (i.e. left) in particular is spreading quickly.

The two areas of smoke on the far left were noted in the post from three days ago. There aren't too many hotspots identified in the image, but earlier overpasses suggest them. The smoke from the bigger of these two looks to be hugging the ground, remaining quite low. It looks to me like the smoke is flowing around hills, with the tops of them poking out of the plume. Topo maps (at NAFI) do show some hills near the source(in more or less the right direction) generally reaching heights of ~250m or so.

There are a few other hotspots visible in the image; nothing spectacular at this time.

Fire-weatherwise, conditions across the region have been 'very high' with hot temperatures, low RH and moderate but gusty winds. Fuel loads are high and fully cured. This weather is not atypical and similar conditions is expected to continue for a few days. In all likelihood, these fires will continue to spread for the next several days.

These fires are not threatening any human values at this time -- that does not mean they are without impact. Hot uncontrolled wildfires release release more CO2 than cooler early-season burns. There is also an impact on the local flora and fauna. Finally, the smoke can travel and affect air quality far downstream, potentially a public health risk.

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