A rare image of a fire cloud has been taken over eastern Washington state by scientists aboard NASA's flying laboratory jet, according to NASA Earth Observatory, an online publishing outlet for NASA.
On 8 August 2019, a team of atmospheric scientists observed these clouds as NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory passed directly through a large pyrocumulonimbus, commonly known as “fire cloud” rising from a wildfire in eastern Washington.
Using scientific instruments aboard the jet, the researchers sampled gases and matter in the cloud and took temperature, humidity, and windspeed readings.
Joshua Schwarz, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and one of the leaders of the research, said:
“It’s extremely exciting to have the chance to improve our understanding of how these clouds transport material into the atmosphere, where it can survive for a long time".
The flight was part of a joint NOAA and NASA field campaign called FIREX-AQ, tasked with new research on the clouds to improve weather forecasts and air quality.
“Fire clouds” form when wildfires and agricultural fires unleash enough heat and moisture into the atmosphere to produce storms.
The flight came at a time when wildfires are becoming an increasing threat and is part of an ongoing effort by NASA, NOAA and partner institutions to study the atmospheric effects of wildfires.
"We're also gathering information about how fires spread, where a fire will go next and how to fight it", Schwarz said. "We’re trying to make life better for firefighters and people who suffer from bad air quality".