NASA has reported that smoke from Australia’s devastating bushfires is so severe that it is expected to circle around the globe, before returning to the country’s skies from the west.  

The US space agency has been capturing the billowing smoke into the lower stratosphere, reaching 17.7 kilometres above sea level where it is anticipated to travel halfway around the earth, crossing South America “turning skies hazy and causing colourful sunrises and sunsets”.

It is predicted by its current trajectory, smoke from bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria will travel over the Atlantic, Africa and the Indian Ocean before returning to settle over Australia in the coming days.

“The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia,” reads a NASA statement.

With no end in sight, this bushfire season has already witnessed the burning of more than 5.2 million hectares in NSW and 1.3 million hectares in Victoria.

It comes as major Australian cities have suffered from low air quality. Overnight in Victoria, a thick layer of smoke has also settled over the state. As authorities acknowledge that Melbourne’s air quality was recorded to be the poorest across the globe.    

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research scientist Colin Seftor explained that the American space agency has been vigilantly tracking the smoke’s movement and intensity.

These pictures show the difference in the air quality in Melbourne over the past few days. (@astrokerrie/Twitter)

NASA satellites show that smoke has travelled more than 6500 kilometres away from Australia; already reached South America, resulting in hazy skies over Chile and Argentina. Whilst, the smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand’s air quality; darkening of the colour of the snow on its mountains.

According to NASA imagery, the full extent of the smoke plume which is measured using UV index has seen a large concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which has “rivalled…(the) largest values ever recorded,” explained Seftor.

The space agency has labelled Australia’s bushfire-generated storms as a relatively rare episode of “extreme Pyrocumulonimbus storm” in Australia. 

Pyrocumulonimbus is a term used to describe when “bushfires create their own weather”. It occurs when moisture is trapped in the smoke condensing to produce clouds, which then produces its own lightning. The combination of high temperatures from the fires and historic dryness has led to the formation of an unusually high number of fire-induced thunderstorms. 

“They are triggered by the uplift of ash, smoke, and burning material via super-heated updrafts. As these materials cool, clouds are formed that behave like traditional thunderstorms but without the accompanying precipitation,” explained a NASA statement. 

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has warned that extreme air pollution is likely to continue in the state’s northeast from NSW and local fires.

“EPA advises people to take care & stay indoors away from smoke where possible. During periods of good air quality ventilate by opening windows & doors,” recommended the EPA.