Monday, May 11, 2015

Siberian Haze in North-Central Nevada

It is often — more commonly than in the past, IMO — hazy or dusty in north-central Nevada where I routinely work and often travel, here and there across basins and over ranges. And in summer and fall (and probably much earlier this year than usual due to the abnormal Californian and western drought) the basins will often fill with thin and wispy to thick and dense smoke from wildfires. I was a little surprised though, when I noticed little wisps of what looked like smoke coming from the northwest early on the morning of April 18th.
In this view of the Owyhee Bluffs and Jake Creek Mountain, the reddish sunrise looks a little smokey to me. Photo taken 18Apr15 from Location 1.

For all photo and a few geographic locations, see the map embedded below.
In this next, closer view of the same cliff and the Midas Trough to the south (the lowlands to the right of the highest cliff), the possible smoke is harder to see, though the lower part of this sunrise photo shows the same red-orange glow as the first photo.
Mostly gratuitous sunrise photo, taken 18Apr15 photo from Location 2.
Here, below, is a similar view of the Midas Trough in denser smoke, taken from a bit farther away on the next afternoon — the first photo was from 26.5 miles, the second from 14 miles,  and this third is from 20 miles. By this time, I knew that a broad bank of smoke had moved in...but from where?
Photo taken 19Apr15 from Location 3.
I turned around (below) at the same location, impressed by how much smoke was hanging in the air between the Sonoma Range and I. That's Sonoma Peak at 9396 ft (2864 m) in the center.
Photo taken 19Apr15 from Location 3, looking southwest. It's about 16.5 miles to Sonoma Peak as the raven flies.
I'm not sure which day I found out that the relatively dense smoke was coming all the way from fires in Siberia, but I surely knew by the 20th (and probably knew on the 19th). Read a little more about smoke from the Siberian fires herehere, here, and here.

I took a few more pictures on the morning and afternoon of the 20th, then settled into a few more days of working inside, with the smoke staying about the same as you can see in my photos below. The first shot is a crudely stitched-together photo I took from Location 3, which shows the Osgood Mountains on the left (northwest) and the plateaus and cliffs north of the Midas Trough way to the right (northeast).
Photo taken 20Apr15 from Location 3, looking to the NNE. The bright light in the center is most likely a vehicle coming back from one of several (4-5) mines. It's that time of the morning!
And to get that photo stitched I had to finally figure out how to get Photostitch (Canon's program) downloaded onto this 8.1 computer. In the mean time, I had tried several free downloads and online programs, and Microsoft ICE, and none of them could do a thing with my poorly shot photos. (Surprisingly enough, I still don't own a copy of Photoshop, even though I had an early Mac version several years back, when it was a very simple and straightforward program.)

Here's another shot of the Midas Trough from that same old standby location, Location 2. This is one of the best places to stop to take photos along S.R. 789 and the Getchell Highway as far as getting out of road traffic is concerned, but there is a lot of roadside junk to shoot around, and there are always the pervasive power lines.
Photo taken 20Apr15 from Location 2. The bright light to the left is a vehicle on the Midas road, probably coming back from the mines.
On this morning, my sunrise photo shows a lot of the reddish orange glow reported in the northwest and elsewhere in the western U.S., although my photos are nowhere near as spectacular as those shown here at the Siberian Times. In fact, it seemed that the density of the smoke was wiping out the sunrise I was seeing, but maybe I was too early that day, and I didn't have time to wait for the sun to peak through.

Later on the 20th, I took this picture of Jake Creek Mountain through very dense smoke from about 14.5 miles away.
Photo take 20Apr15 from Location 4.
Below, I've stopped at my favored Location 2, at the junction of the Midas and Getchell roads, and taken one more shot looking off toward the Midas Trough. This very hazy photo was taken with the same focal length as my second photo, and not only can you just barely see the cliffs and lowlands, you can barely see the power line wire in the foreground!
Photo taken 20Apr15 from Location 2.
Off in the distance to the southeast (next photo, below), I could barely see the outlines of the Valmy Power Plant (North Valmy Generating Station), couldn't see the Shoshone Range beyond Battle Mountain some 60 miles distant, and could barely see the outline of Buffalo Mountain, which is a kind of northern splinter of the Tobin Range beyond the low eastern hills of the Edna Mountains (far right) and beyond the long flat of Pumpernickel Valley (hidden from view). In the original, pre-stitched photos, the vague outline of the Valmy power plant is clearer, and a ghostly mountain beyond the horizon down that long dirt road can be seen: Battle Mountain. Note: Wikipedia shows this mountain as the Battle Mountains or Battle Mountain Range, but the semi-circular mountain is officially known as "Battle Mountain" — see the USGS TNM 2.0 map here — and everybody in Nevada, at least those north of Tonopah, knows this. Also note, if you click through to view the topo map of Battle Mountain the mountain, you'll notice the central, highest peak, Antler Peak. Antler Peak gave name to the Nevada-famous, late Devonian to Pennsylvanian(?) Antler orogeny.
Photo taken 20Apr15 from Location 5.
Just a few miles down the road, I was impressed enough to take one more picture, this time of the Sonoma Range and Sonoma Peak from a pullout overlooking the Humboldt River near Preble. In this shot, Sonoma Peak is about 13.5 miles distant. The snow fields surrounding Sonoma Peak are harder to see in the closer shot than they were in Photo #4 from 3 miles farther away!
Photo taken 20Apr15 from Location 6.
When I left the area on the 23rd, the hazy smokiness was still in full swing, and I was getting quite tired of it. During this time, the haze was fairly dense, but a strong smoke smell was generally absent. One or two days I wondered if my eyes burned just a little, but it wasn't like last summer during the densest smoke, when it was hard to work outdoors, or even indoors without A/C. I figured that this time, because the smoke (or most of it) was coming from so far away, we were getting mostly the extreme fines, not any of the larger particles that cause breathing and eye problems (at least in me, IANAD).

When I came back less than a week later, I was welcomed by a great clearness, one that isn't seen in the northern Nevada desert that often these days, what with more wind than I'm used to anywhere but in the Mojave of southern CA. A large T-storm or Pacific front came through, and the air was fresh and clear. I drove to work, sans camera unfortunately, and thought I'd take some pictures the next day from the same spots, to show how these shots would look on a day rivaling the clearness of the 70s or 80s — but on the next day, the 30th, haze began to move back in, and I once again wondered whether it was all from the northwest (reported Oregon fires), or if it was partly or entirely from Siberia. Were the fires over there still going?

It turns out that they were, so the haze that persisted into the next week and a half, until at least May 5th or so, was at least partly from continued field burning in Siberia, China, and Korea, as noted here, here, and here. NOAA first reported — on their HMS Fire and Smoke page — about this second band of incoming smoke on April 29th, and continued reporting it through at least May 7th.

And so it goes...

View Midas Trough and Siberian Haze in a larger map.