The unprecedented 2023 Canadian wildfires not only etched their mark on Canadian and U.S. territories but exerted a far-reaching influence across the Northern Hemisphere, impacting air quality as distant as Europe and China. A recent study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences on November 17th unveils the profound extent of these wildfires’ effects on global air quality.
Led by Zhe Wang, a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Atmospheric Boundary Layer Physics at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the study employed numerical air quality models to assess the widespread impact of the record-setting Canadian fires. The research, utilizing the Aerosol and Atmospheric Chemistry Model (IAP-AACM) within the Chinese Academy of Sciences Earth System Model (CAS-ESM), revealed the staggering reach of pollutants across the hemisphere.
DECLINES IN AIR QUALITY THROUGHOUT THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE
While Canada faced the most severe repercussions, the study elucidated marked declines in air quality throughout the Northern Hemisphere due to the dispersal of pollutants via long-range wind transport. The research identified six substantial air pollution episodes during Canada’s wildfire season, affecting not only Canada and the northern U.S. but extending their impact to Europe and Asia.
The study’s findings aligned with real-time observations, with New York City recording the worst air quality level in over 50 years due to elevated concentrations of fine particles (PM2.5) during one episode. These particles, surpassing World Health Organization guidelines, plagued various regions, including western and eastern Canada and parts of Europe and Asia, significantly surpassing safe air quality levels.
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Moreover, the fires contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions, notably elevating carbon dioxide levels across North America, Europe, and northwestern Asia. This surge in greenhouse gases not only exacerbates existing global warming but also undermines Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, surpassing the anticipated reductions in human-caused emissions for the next decade.
Zifa Wang, corresponding author of the study, highlighted the detrimental impact of the wildfires on Canada’s emission targets, emphasizing the urgent need to address these unprecedented challenges posed by the fires and their environmental ramifications.