Smoke From The Kuwait Oil Well Fires


Smoke From The Kuwait Oil Well Fires

At the end of the Persian Gulf War in the spring of 1991, 732 oil wells were set ablaze in Kuwait. Some 550 wells were still burning in May and June, when a group of scientists began to study the properties and climatic impact of the dense smoke that rose from them.

In this image, taken from the Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper during the study, the fires appear as red dots. The black smoke plume extends south from Kuwait along the Persian Gulf coast into Saudi Arabia.

Along much of the coast, the smoke plume remained confined to a strip about 25 kilometers wide in areas near the fires. As the plume moved off the Arabian Peninsula toward the Gulf of Oman and India, it widened to about 60 kilometers and became thinner. The smoke plume not only was relatively narrow, but limited in height, typically having a base at about 0.5 kilometers and a top between 3 and 4 kilometers.

Using an instrument called the Cloud Absorption Radiometer aboard a C-131A aircraft from the University of Washington, scientists were able to measure scattered radiation deep within the smoke layer. These data provided information about the composition of the smoke layer.

One of the objectives of the study was to predict how extensively the smoke from the fires would spread, and what effect the smoke would have on global climate. Although the scientists concluded that the smoke from the Kuwait oil fires would be confined to the Gulf region, the data they obtained on smoke characteristics will add to our understanding of the effect of more-extensive fires on global climate.

Beginning in 1998, such instruments as the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR) planned as part of the EOS Program, will provide observations of fires and the smoke produced by them routinely on a global scale.