Natural fires raging in Canada have released a billion tons of carbon dioxide

Canada is currently experiencing the most destructive wildfire season in the country’s history, highlighting the potential impact of uncontrolled wildfires on climate change, air quality and biodiversity. More than 4,700 fires have been reported since the beginning of the year through July 26, destroying more than 121,000 square kilometers, an area larger than South Korea. This is 7.5 times the total area affected by wildfires in China over two decades.

Carbon dioxide emissions from these fires are a cause for concern. Researchers from the Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences estimate that the Canadian fires have released a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Dr. Liu Zhihua, a renowned wildfire expert from IAE, emphasizes the undeniable impact of greenhouse gases emitted by these fires on global climate warming.

Using remote sensing technology, scientists were able to calculate the carbon emissions from the fires. This method estimates the intensity of carbon emissions relative to the area of scorched land observed from satellite images. If methane and nitrous oxide emissions, whose greenhouse effect is equivalent to 110 million tons of carbon dioxide, are included, the total greenhouse gas emissions from the Canadian fires would be about 1.11 billion tons of CO2.

In addition to climate impacts, fires cause serious environmental and health effects. Fires release a variety of pollutants into the atmosphere, including particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10), organic aerosols, and black carbon. Smoke plumes from wildfires have even crossed state lines, resulting in significantly degraded air quality in the U.S. during four periods this year.

New York City experienced its worst air pollution since 1960 during one of these periods. Similarly, Chicago had an air quality index 5.6 times the regulatory limits during another episode. Pollutants are not limited to North America: westerly winds carry them across continents, affecting regions in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. During one such event, PM2.5 levels in Europe increased by more than 5 µg/m3 and in western China PM2.5 concentrations increased by 1-2 µg/m3.

The Canadian wildfires are a stark reminder of the need for urgent action to combat climate change and its devastating effects. As Dr. Liu Zhihua warns, “this has become a global environmental event.” It is critical for governments, scientists and individuals to join forces to mitigate climate change and prevent further catastrophic events like these fires.

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