Several wildfires in France have already released record amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the start of summer, according to satellite data. Adapting to global warming, these fires also strengthen the greenhouse effect, especially by releasing CO2 while reducing the number of trees available to absorb carbon.
Overheated, France is burning in the west. While the heat wave reached the southwest on Friday 12 August with temperatures exceeding 41 °C, French firefighters – now supported by European reinforcements – continue to fight against the wildfires, particularly those by the Gironde where ” Outstanding” fires have already devastated the forests of Landiras and Teste-de-Buch in mid-July.
The fires that raged during the recent heat waves in Europe illustrate this: Global warming favors wildfires, which have already destroyed a larger area since the beginning of the year than throughout 2021. More than 60,500 hectares have been burned in France. Beginning of 2022, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFIS), and the month of July holds the record for burned areas. A worrying event from the point of view of carbon emissions, recalls, on Friday, 12 August, the European Program on Climate Change, Copernicus (CAMS), announced that France has set a record carbon emissions from wildfires this summer since Most recorded. 2003.
A day earlier, CAMS also warned of an increase in ozone levels during heat waves.
CO2. Air quality has declined due to the release of
Wildfire is a real cocktail of chemical compounds. Many of them are greenhouse gases: mainly CO2, methane and nitrogen oxides, which are toxic to humans. But fire also releases aerosols, soot (excess particulates) and tar.
Furthermore, because they are greater and more intense, fires rapidly affect the quality of the air breathed by the population. In France, in mid-July, smoke from the Gironde fire, filled with particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, was felt in Bordeaux, which has more than 800,000 residents, and even in Paris. , more than 500 km.
But above all, as the Copernicus report on Friday reminded us, the burning of trees releases carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
For the period June-August 2022 alone, about one million tons of carbon were released into the atmosphere from the French fires, that is, equivalent to the annual emissions of 790,000 cars. At this rate, the report tells us, the entire 2003 record (about 1.3 million tonnes) could be beaten and 2022 could become the worst year since records began.
In Spain, this record was beaten during a heat wave in mid-July, a period marked by violent fires in Extremadura (southwest) and Galicia (northwest). The Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) dataset then showed that total estimated carbon emissions from fires in Spain between June 1 and July 17 were already higher than the June–July totals from 2003 to 2021.
The heat wave “made the fires worse” in the Iberian Peninsula and southwest France, explains Copernicus scientist Mark Parrington. In Spain, 245,293 hectares were consumed; 76,423 hectares in Portugal.
Once the fire is extinguished and the plume has dissipated, the impact on the climate is assessed in relation to the trees up in the smoke. Vanished, plants could no longer perform their role as “carbon sinks” (reservoirs that store atmospheric carbon, by a natural or artificial system). However, France’s forests capture 25% of the CO2 released by the country, recalled Sophie Sojopa, an atmospheric chemist in Ouest-France, recently. And those who remain play their roles more difficult.
While burned forests can take up to thirty years to reabsorb the carbon released during a fire (if they are not burned in the meantime), experts say: “The carbon sinks in France have been declining since the 1990s, Partly because of development and drought issues. Fire is an added pressure.”
heavy ozone pollution
In addition to fires and carbon emissions, each heat wave comes with an increase in surface ozone levels, the Copernicus Program reported Wednesday.
This gas, colorless and extremely irritating, is formed during interactions between the Sun, the emissions of fossil fuels and other pollutants, especially those discarded by automobiles or industry. It is present naturally in the atmosphere, but at high altitudes. Below (surface, or troposphere) ozone, it is a major greenhouse gas and pollutant, a component of urban haze, which causes damage to ecosystems and human health.
“The potential effects of very heavy ozone pollution on human health could be significant in terms of both respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” said Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service scientist Mark Parrington in the communication. “Higher values can lead to symptoms such as sore throat, cough, headache and an increased risk of asthma attacks. The Clean Air Coalition estimates that ozone pollution causes approximately one million additional deaths per year. It is therefore important that Let us monitor surface ozone levels.”
With the new heat wave sweeping most of Europe this week, the Copernicus forecast predicts further spikes in maximum daily surface ozone levels. Levels well above the 100 µg/m limit considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), and often above the European 120 µg/m in many European capitals.
Last March, a study published in the journal Science by Canadian researchers already noted the negative impact of smoke from wildfires on the state of the ozone layer. By studying the results of the 2019-2020 fires in Australia, researchers demonstrated that the smoke reaching the atmosphere caused a drop in the concentration of ozone and an increase in the concentration of chlorine gases. According to him, disturbances that can cause “holes” in the ozone layer are similar to those observed in the 1980s.
with AFP and Reuters
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