Cold Smoke: smoke-induced density currents cause unexpected smoke transport near large wildfires
Abstract. The first observations of smoke-induced density currents originating from large wildfires are presented. Using a novel mobile Doppler lidar and additional in situ measurements, we document a deep (~ 2 km) smoke-filled density current that propagates more than 25 km at speeds up to 4.5 m s−1 near a large forest fire in northern California. Based on these observations we show that the dynamics governing the spread of the smoke layer result from differential solar heating between the smoke-filled and smoke-free portions of the atmospheric boundary layer. A calculation of the theoretical density current speed agrees well with the observed propagation speed. Additional lidar and photographic documentation of other smoke-filled density currents demonstrate that these previously unknown phenomena are relatively common near large wildfires and can cause severe and unexpected smoke inundation of populated areas.