Copernicus: CO2 emissions from wildfires the highest in decades
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Carbon emissions from wildfires in the European Union and the United Kingdom in summer 2022 are the highest since 2007, according to Copernicus. This article contains an overview of worldwide fires throughout 2022.
The numbers are largely driven by emissions from devastating wildfires in southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula in recent months.
According to an article on Copernicus website, the August heatwave that scorched western Europe in 2022, combined with prolonged dry conditions, resulted in increased wildfire activity and intensity in the region.
Wildfire activity in August contributed a total cumulative burnt area in the EU over the summer months (4 June to 3 Sept) of 508,260 hectares, compared to a 2006-2021 average of 215,548 hectares for the same period, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
The total cumulative burnt area in the EU from the start of the year to 3 September amounts to over 750,000 hectares, compared to an average of just over 260,000 hectares in 2006-2021.
This increased activity is also reflected in smoke emissions (including carbon gases, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds) from wildfires. According to data from the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS), total wildfire emissions in the EU and the United Kingdom between 1 June and 31 August in 2022 are estimated at 6.4 megatonnes of carbon, the highest level since 2007.
France and Spain: highest emissions in 20 years
During August, a large forest fire erupted in southwestern France, burning 7,000 hectares in a region that saw more than 20,000 hectares of forest destroyed by fires in July. In France as a whole, wildfires destroyed over 62,000 hectares from the start of the year to 3 September, six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, according to EFFIS data.
GFAS data show both France and Spain recording the highest carbon emissions from June to August since 2003.
In other regions of Europe, Slovenia, Czechia, Hungary and Germany saw significant wildfire activity. In Germany, the cumulative burnt area amounted to 4,293 hectares, almost double the previous maximum of 2,437 hectares and significantly higher than the 2006-2021 average of just over 330 hectares, according to EFFIS data.
Eurasian boreal fires
Numerous boreal summer wildfires developed in both eastern and western regions of Eurasia in late July and early August. In eastern Eurasia however, the number of wildfires and associated emissions was greatly reduced in the Sakha Republic compared to last year, with more significant fires further south in Khabarovsk Krai earlier in the summer, while northern and western Eurasia saw increased emissions in August.
In particular, Russia’s Ural Federal District saw significant fire activity, mainly in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, where air quality was severely degraded. Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod Oblasts in western Russia experienced large wildfires in the second half of August, with smoke pollution degrading air quality in Moscow and being transported as far as Finland. Total estimated emissions from the fires in these regions were the highest since the large peat fires that affected western Russia in 2010.
Amazon fires at 10-year high
The fire season has been developing in the Amazon region through August into September. Some reports state that last month the Amazon region saw highest number of August fires in the last decade. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) registered 31,513 fire alerts in the Amazon in the first 30 days of the month, making it the worst August since 2010.
"Normal" fire season in the US
Despite a number of large wildfires in the western U.S. states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana) in August, daily total seasonal total emissions were low, compared to the devastating fires of 2021.
There was, however, a continuation of the significant fire activity in Alaska, with 1.26 million hectares burnt as of August 25, the highest since 2015 and seventh highest total since 1950, according to preliminary analysis from the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service.
There was also significant wildfire activity in Canada, where the Northwest Territories saw 242 fires this year with 511,236 hectares affected, and Yukon, which had 273 wildfires to date in 2022, with 175,283 hectares burnt.
Faster, hotter: Fires today are different than in decades past
According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the fires that happen around the world today are unlike the fires of the 50s and the decades through the 90s and until the current millenium:
"Fires are burning faster and hotter than ever before, and complex socio-economic factors result in more people being affected by smoke, debris flows and other wildfire effects. It is becoming more common for areas to suffer a subsequent catastrophic wildfire before recovering from an earlier wildfire.
Throughout 2022, tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and dozens of people – including two firefighters – died, mostly in northern Algeria where at least 40 people died in August fires. Hundreds more died from the extreme heat. At least seven countries’ capitals reached 40-year highs in temperature this year.
As of Nov. 20, the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) estimated that within European Union countries, between 2.07 million acres and 2.17 million acres have burned. In the broader area that EFFIS covers, it estimated between 4 million acres and 4.2 million burned acres."
Photo Credit: (Cover photo above) A veteran firefighter from the US Bureau of Land Management in 2015. Flickr Creative Commons Generic CC BY 2.0