The unprecedented scale of US wildfires, smoke even reaches Europe
Scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service at ECMWF are tracking the devastating wildfires in California, and other regions in the Western US.
With the ongoing fires, vast amounts of smoke have been produced in the last few weeks. This smoke has affected large areas of North America and has even reached Europe.
Above: CAMS data on fire radiative power (a measure of fire intensity) for California and Oregon for 2020 (red) shows the devastating effect the wildfires are having in comparison to the 2003-2019 average (grey). Below: CAMS Estimated Annual Total Wildfire Carbon Emissions for California and Oregon. Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF
Data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission, reveal that the wildfires currently raging across the Western United States are significantly more intense than the 2003-2019 average for the whole country and the affected states. CAMS, which monitors daily wildfire activity worldwide using satellite observations of their intensity to estimate emissions of atmospheric pollutants, has tracked the long-range transport of the smoke as far as 8,000 kilometres away to reach Northern Europe.
ECMWF/CAMS Global Aerosol Optical Depth at 550nm Forecast initialized at 00 UTC on 11 September 2020 and valid at 12 UTC on the same day. Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF
The fires burning in California since mid-August, and in Oregon and Washington since the beginning of September, have emitted vast quantities of thick smoke that have affected a huge area.
The fires emitted an estimated 21,7 megatonnes of carbon in California, 7,3 megatonnes of carbon in Oregon and 1,4 megatonnes of carbon in Washington. Overall emissions for Western USA were up to estimated 30,3 megatonnes of carbon.
ECMWF/CAMS Global Aerosol Optical Depth at 550 nm Forecast initialized at 00 UTC on 15 September and valid at 00 UTC on the 16th. Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF
Mark Parrington, CAMS Senior Scientist and wildfire expert, explains:
“The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers, since 2003. A good indicator of smoke thickness is the aerosol optical depth, or AOD. In the Western US, we have seen that AOD levels have reached very high values of seven or above, which has been confirmed by independent ground-based measurement. To put this into perspective, an AOD of one would already indicate a lot of aerosols in the atmosphere. CAMS monitoring of atmospheric conditions is vital in situations like that as, it provides decision-makers and other individuals with the knowledge to make informed choices regarding their heath and the health of others.”
Scientists from CAMS will continue to monitor the intensity of the fires and the smoke they release in the coming weeks.