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Firework and Bonfire Celebrations Reduce Visibility, Especially When Humidity Is High

Nov 03, 2015 01:41 PM EST
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Guy Fawkes Night and many other events worldwide, big and small, are celebrated with firework displays and bonfires. However, the smoke and particles emitted from these activities significantly reduce visibility for up to two days following the event.
(Photo : Flickr: Colin Knowles)

Fireworks and bonfires may be a fun way to celebrate national holidays, but the smoke and other particles emitted into the atmosphere can reduce visibility by 25 percent, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham. Visibility can further be reduced if the fireworks and bonfires are set on a night when the relative humidity is high.

"Guy Fawkes Night [in the U.K.], and fireworks in general, are attended and much enjoyed by me and many other," Dr. Francis Pope, lead author from the University of Birmingham's School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said in a news release. "Unfortunately, these events can affect short term air quality and lead to significant reductions in visibility. We hope that our work will lead to improved forecasting of visibility degradation."

Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in Britain every year on Nov. 5. On this day, fireworks and bonfires ignite to commemorate the 1605 English Catholic conspiracy known as "The Gunpowder Plot." This uprising aimed to blow up the English Parliament along with the ruling monarch, King James I, and replace him with a Catholic head of state. In the end, this conspiracy failed and Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested.

For their study, researchers examined meteorological data collected between 2000 and 2012 from 34 stations throughout the U.K. On average, researchers concluded that atmospheric particles reduced visibility by 25 percent. However, if nighttime conditions were unfavorable, visibility could be reduced by as much as 64 percent, according to the release.

Researchers explained that particles emitted from bonfires and fireworks are hygroscopic, meaning they are able to attract and hold water molecules from their surrounding environment. This is why the particles are further influenced by nights with high humidity. Essentially, as humidity increases, so does the water content of the particulate matter, the release noted. This ultimately increases the size and composition of individual particles, making them more likely to scatter light and reduce visibility.

"If forecasts suggest that planned displays will coincide with conditions likely to exacerbate poor visibility then organizers and local authorities should be prepared to issue poor visibility warnings in advance. This precautionary measure could prevent unnecessary accidents," Dr. Pope suggested in the release and added that reduced visibility can last up to two days after a fireworks display.  

Their study was recently published in the journal Weather

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