wild fires

How webcams are bringing us terrifyingly close to the Western wildfires

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Bay Area residents woke up Wednesday morning to see their world washed in tones of rusty sepia.

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Resembling the surface of Mars, or even the apocalyptic world of Bladerunner 2049, these striking photos are evidence of the havoc wildfires wreak on the west coast.

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But what is the science behind these other-worldly skies and how can scientists keep track of them as they spread across the west?

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A Martian comparison: If these images of California look a lot like Mars, you're not wrong. On the surface of Mars, small particles of iron oxide scatter incoming light, making the sky appear red.

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In California, blowing ash from the northern wildfires play the part of these small particles. This ash blocks incoming light from the Sun and absorbs the blue light.

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As a result, red and orange light is bounced back instead.

ALERTWildfire

How to track it: The wildfires are moving fast. So it can seem like a monumental task to both fight them and keep track of their patterns for science's sake. But ALERTWildfire is in the right spot at the right time.

In operation since 2016, ALERTWildfire is a multi-university effort between UC San Diego, the University of Nevada, and the University of Oregon. Together, they help people across the world install cameras to monitor the spread of wildfires in their area.

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Using real-time camera feeds, individuals can track wildfires when they begin and contact first responders to help contain them.

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Not much can be done to control the blanket of red haze covering the west now, but a tool like ALERTWildfire tracks the fires to help scientists better understand air quality changes and see where ash levels may be elevated.

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If anything, the images collected by California's webcams serve as an unnerving reminder of the power of climate change, and the deadly effects it is already having on our world.

Read more climate change stories here.

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