A study of the smoke that blanketed Melbourne during the Black Summer bushfires has shown mobile phones could be used to measure and detect haze events.
The new Monash University-led research, published in the international journal AGU, examined the atmospheric conditions in Greater Melbourne over a series of smoke haze events in 2019/10.
The Black Summer bushfires burned more than 46 million acres, displaced thousands of Australians and resulted in the deaths of 34 people.
Smoke from the fire fronts travelled hundreds of kilometres to cities including Sydney and Melbourne.
The researchers found the smoke-laden dry air hovering above the ground acted as a lid that reduced dispersion, trapping and maintaining high ground-level concentrations of smoke.
It created irregular broadcast conditions for radio links and operational weather radars, while other unique signal patterns were identified.
The study, led by Monash University's department of civil engineering research fellow Adrien Guyot, noted these received signal levels were already being used to measure rainfall and humidity.
"The great strength of the mobile phone network data is that it provides very unique spatially distributed information on the atmospheric stability during smoke events," Dr Guyot said.
"This is important information because atmospheric stability is strongly related to the occurrence of dense smoke close to the ground, being both a precursor and consequence of the high concentration of smoke."
Dr Guyot believes this routinely recorded data could also be used to predict smoke concentrations at ground level during haze events, complementing air quality stations in alerting the public.
"I can see this data being ingested in predictive capabilities no earlier than a couple of years from now, only once the technology and the understanding of processes will have reached maturity," he said.
Australian Associated Press