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Satellite depicts Kuwaiti oil-well fires.

Satellite depicts Kuwaiti oil-well fires

Though the war has cooled off under a conditional ceasefire, the fires set in hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells have yet to cease burning. The blazes could persist for years, spewing smoke and gas laden with carbon and sulfur compounds. This image, taken by the NOAA-11 meteorological satellite on Feb. 21 and obtained by SCIENCE NEWS on March 22, shows two dark plumes of smoke from burning oil wells in southern Kuwait. The plumes, partially hidden by clouds (yellow areas), have drifted more than 300 kilometers into Saudi Arabia.

Atmospheric chemists at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., use the satellite to track the smoke and to analyze its contents. The dark plumes in the image indicate that smoke from the fires in Kuwait contains much more soot than forest-fire smoke, which appears white or gray in satellite images, says Langley's Joel S. Levine. Kuwaiti oil is especially noxicus when it burns, he notes, because it contains more sulfur and carbon than other types of oil.

Because the fires are not intense enough to send soot into the stratosphere, they pose regional health hazards but no threat of a global "nuclear winter," Levine told SCIENCE NEWS. "That's good for the globe," he says, "but not so good for those living in the Gulf region."
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Title Annotation:NOAA-11 meteorological satellite
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 30, 1991
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