Smoke From Wildfires in Canada Traveled as Far as Norway

Though air quality has improved along the East Coast, smoke particles are floating through the atmosphere to other parts of the world

Satellite map of fires
This satellite image shows active fires (in red) and gray smoke particles wafting over parts of eastern Canada and the United States.  NASA Worldview / NILU

Smoke from still-burning wildfires in Canada has drifted as far east as Norway and will likely continue moving south across the rest of Europe, according to the Climate and Environmental Research Institute (NILU) in Norway.

The particle count in Europe is “much lower” than in North America, which means Europeans should not experience any air quality-related health issues, says Nikolaos Evangeliou, a senior scientist with the institute, in a statement. In Norway, the particles could create a faint haze in the air or a scent of smoke, but that’s it.

“The fires traveling from such long distances arrive very diluted,” Evangeliou tells CNN’s Laura Paddison.

Wildfires are a common occurrence in Canada, which encompasses roughly nine percent of the world’s forests, per Natural Resources Canada. On average, fires burn roughly 9,600 square miles each year.

But this year, wildfire season got a head start because of unusually hot and dry weather. Already, the 3.8-million-square-mile nation is on course to have its worst wildfire season ever, per the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). More than 2,200 wildfires have burned more than 12,700 square miles in Canada, which is much higher than usual: The 10-year average for early June is just 1,624 fires affecting 980 square miles, per NOAA.

Smoke from the fires drifted south along the East Coast of the United States last week, casting an eerie orange pall over New York City and creating hazardous air quality conditions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Conditions have now improved, but more smoke could be on the way as wildfires continue to burn across Canada.

Smoke From Canadian Wildfires Blankets U.S.

Using satellite observations and meteorological data, scientists at NILU are creating simulations to show how Canada’s wildfire smoke is moving through the atmosphere and around the world. Since smoke particles are small and lightweight, they can float thousands of miles before sinking to the ground—as long as there’s no snow or rain to preemptively sink them.

They’re also confirming their models using on-the-ground instruments, which began detecting smoke particles on Wednesday.

Flexpartmodellering av hvordan røyk fra skogbranner i Canada vil bevege seg gjennom atmosfæren.

Scientists expect wildfires to become more common and more intense as temperatures continue to rise because of human-caused climate change. Meanwhile, they’re also contributing to climate change. As they burn through forests, which stores large amounts of carbon, wildfires release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, per the Environmental Protection Agency. This greenhouse gas traps heat on the planet which, in turn, causes global temperatures to rise. Hotter, drier weather contributes to more wildfires, and the cycle begins all over again.

Scientists are also particularly interested in how wildfires contribute to Arctic melting, per the Associated Press. As smoke particles float north, some may fall atop the ice and snow at high latitudes. This can darken the normally light-colored surfaces, which causes them to absorb more heat from the sun and melt more quickly.

The Arctic is already warming faster than the rest of the world because of human-caused climate change. While the melting effects of the current Canadian wildfires should be small, experts are worried about the rest of this summer. If more wildfires begin burning in Canada—especially at higher latitudes—they could drop damaging soot on the Arctic.

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