Since the beginning of May, different regions in Canada have been affected by severe wildfires, extending between British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwestern Territories in western Canada; and to Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. The emissions from these wildfires to 26 June are now the largest annual estimated emissions for Canada in the 21 years of our GFAS dataset. The smoke from these fires has led to significantly degraded air quality throughout North America and even reaching across the Atlantic to the European coast in the second week of June. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has been monitoring the smoke transport as well as the intensity and estimated emissions of the wildfires.
Following unusually dry conditions and high temperatures, several wildfires have taken place in Canada since the beginning of May. They started in the western part of the country, but expanded later to the eastern regions, leading to a total of approximately 160 megatonnes of carbon emissions, which are now the highest annual total estimated emissions for Canada based on the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) dataset covering 2003 to present.
Smoke plume reaching Europe – its impact on air quality
A further increase in the intensity of the wildfires in Quebec and Ontario towards the end of last week (21-22 June) led to the CAMS global forecast showing a particularly strong episode of long-range smoke transport crossing the North Atlantic and reaching Europe, with high values of aerosol optical depth and carbon monoxide, between 26-29 June. It is important to note that long-range transport of smoke, such as this episode, tend to occur at higher altitudes where the atmospheric lifetime of air pollutants is longer, which means they are manifested more as hazy skies with red/orange sunsets.
Consequently, the predicted smoke transport is not expected to have a significant impact on surface air quality. CAMS forecasts of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) concentrations at the surface, which could add to local sources of air pollution, are being closely monitored in case they change.
CAMS Senior Scientist, Mark Parrington comments: “Our monitoring of the scale and persistence of the wildfire emissions across Canada since early May has shown how unusual it has been when compared to the two decades of our dataset. The long-range transport of smoke that we are currently monitoring is not unusual, and not expected to have any significant impact on surface air quality in Europe, but it is a clear reflection of the intensity of the fires that such high values of aerosol optical depth and other pollutants associated with the plume are so high as it reaches this side of the Atlantic.”
CAMS provides up-to-date information on the location, intensity, and estimated emissions of wildfires around the world, including the tracking of their smoke transport and impacts on atmospheric composition. CAMS data is freely available to use and can serve as a vital aid in decision-making processes for citizens, businesses and stakeholders in related sectors alike.