Wildfires are not uncommon in Canada’s vast terrain, but the current incidents have left even the most seasoned experts surprised.
This year, blazing wildfires in Canada have already scorched roughly 11 million acres – over two times the size of New Jersey – including over 2 million acres located in Quebec alone. The volume of smoke emitted by Canadian wildfires has reached the greatest level ever recorded in the country, as plumes travel across the Atlantic to the European coast.
According to the EU’s climate monitor on 3rd August 2023, the severity of Canada’s burning wildfires has resulted in record amounts of carbon emissions. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) of Europe discovered that cumulative carbon emissions from Canadian wildfires have risen to 290 megatons from 1st January to 31st July. This is not only more than double the previous year’s number, but it also accounts for more than 25% of the worldwide total for this year to date.
Earlier in July, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau labeled the nation’s recent wildfire season as “unprecedented”. According to the Canadian government’s fire season outlook, the warm and dry conditions are expected to result in “higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country throughout the 2023 season.”
Mark Parrington, a Senior Scientist at CAMS, said: “In recent years we have seen significant wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere, but this year’s fire activity in Canada is highly unusual.” He further added: “The weather has played a part, with warm and dry conditions increasing the flammability of vegetation and increasing the risk of large-scale fires. We support users in mitigating the impacts through monitoring the fire activity and intensity.”
With over 13 million hectares (approximately 32 million acres) blazed, this year’s wildfire outbreak in Canada has been the worst on record. Nearly 500 wildfires are presently raging throughout Canada, as per the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. These include British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories as well as Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
Human-caused climate change has increased the hot and dry conditions that allow wildfires to start and spread. Some of these flames have also displayed severe fire behavior in recent weeks, including frightening rotating patterns while producing plumes and billowing smoke across the continent. Clouds of smoke from hundreds of fires have enveloped broad swaths of the nation, driving tens of thousands of individuals to evacuate their homes and prompting air quality advisories in the northern US. cities.
Worsening Air Quality: The Toll of Wildfires Smoke
According to statistics from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, 1036 active fires are currently burning across the country, and 663 of them are categorized as “out of control.”
Northern Quebec’s intense fires resulted in abundant smoke suffocating broad regions of Canada and the United States, delivering historically poor quality to millions of people in New York City, the Greater Toronto Area, and Washington, D.C., among other places. The plumes of smoke from Quebec’s fires even crossed the Atlantic, darkening the skies over Eastern Europe.
The wildfire emissions from Quebec’s northern regions were the main reason for some of the poorest air quality this season. Thick smoke from fires raging across Western Canada and the territories, on the other hand, has led to massive plumes of air pollution sweeping across the nation and the south of the border this season. Owing to regional fires, the quality of air in Yellowknife was bad or dangerous for most of July.
What Does It Mean for the United States This Year?
Experts believe it is tough to predict how severe California’s wildfire season will be following a wet winter, but the National Interagency Fire Center predicts a busy fire season for Washington and Oregon. The northern parts of the Midwest and Northeast could also see an active fire in summer.
Mark Zondlo, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University, worries that Canada’s extraordinary start to the fire season may signal similar risk in the Eastern US. “Drought is starting to form here in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest, and suddenly you start worrying – are we looking at expanding this intense drought, and so what are the risks of wildfires associated with that?” he said. “I know they occur, but not (usually) at the scale that we saw two weeks ago.”
A Stark Wake-Up Call
The “unprecedented” wildfires in Canada are a poignant reminder of how our climate is changing at a rapid pace. As the fire rages on, it signifies the need for global action more than ever. It emphasizes the critical importance of tackling climate change and responding to the difficulties it poses to create an ecologically friendly future.