Global wildfires release record CO2 in 2021, more than entire EU

Global wildfires have released a record 4.7 gigatons of CO2 in 2021 so far – more than the entire European Union

  • Nations of the EU have only generated a relatively scant 2.7 gigatons this year
  • In July, raging blazes unleashed 350 megatons of CO2, an all-time high for the month
  • In addition to infernos in the Western US, hundreds of forest fires in Siberia pushed carbon levels to record highs, experts say 
  • Wildfire season in Northern California doesn’t end until October and in recent years has stretched into December

Wildfires raging across the planet this year have released a record amount of carbon dioxide, a leading ingredient in the greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.   

According to data compiled by Mark Parrington, senior scientist at the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fires have unleashed 4.7 gigatons (4.3 gigatonnes) of CO2 as of August 16. 

In comparison, the 27 member nations of the European Union generated a relatively scant 2.7 gigatons, according to the International Energy Agency policy center.

It could still get worse: Wildfire season in Northern California doesn’t traditionally end until October, according to the California Department for Forestry and Fire Protection, and in recent years, has stretched into December.   

This year’s rocketing CO2 levels, though, are in great part due to the more than 190 forest fires that have ravaged parts of Siberia . 

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Wildfires in the Western US, Siberia and elsewhere have spewed 4.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so far in 2021.  Pictured: Firefighters at the scene of a fire near Gorny Ulus, west of Yakutsk

As of the start of August, NASA reported 505 megatons of carbon dioxide has been spewed into the atmosphere above the remote Sakha Republic in northeastern Siberia —well past the 450 megatons released in 2020, with several more weeks of fire season to go.   

The vast, thick, acrid fumes from hundreds of forest fires unfurled 2,000 miles from east to west and from 2,500 miles from north to south. 

The smoke reached the North Pole, more than 1,800 miles away FROM WHERE?, in what NASA believed is a first, and also spread across parts of Mongolia, a distance of 1,200 miles.

Parrington previously indicated that, in July alone, raging blazes unleashed some 350 megatons of carbon dioxide, the leading ingredient in greenhouse gasses fueling climate change.

The amount of CO2 released by global wildfires surpasses the total emissions of the European Union, which is only 2.7 gigatons. Pictured: Volunteers at the scene of forest fire in Siberia

A chart of wildfires per year in the United States as of August 17, 2021

That’s the highest monthly amount since satellites started analyzing CO2 levels 20 years ago—and it’s a fifth higher than the previous record for the month, set in 2014, according to CAMS.

Parrington said much of that was fueled by ​​record heatwaves and prolonged droughts which were themselves driven by climate change.

Over the next few days, high concentrations of carbon monoxide from wildfire smoke from North America and Siberia will blow into Europe. Pictured: Firefighters try to contain the Dixie Fire near Milford, California, on August 17, 2021

‘We’ve seen big areas of fires before,’ he told New Scientist, ‘but for two months at a time, that’s not something we’ve seen so much of in the data.’

It’s not just the US and Russia, however: Southern Europe has seen staggering fires in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Spain Portugal, and Montenegro.

In the Middle East, Algeria, Lebanon and Tunisia, have also been badly damaged.

In July, raging blazes unleashed 350 megatons of CO2, an all-time high for the month.. Pictured: Firefighters hold a water hose during a blaze in northern Athens on August 6, 2021

In the Amazon rainforest, there have been 267 major fires detected in 2021 so far, burning 60,000 acres—or an area roughly the size of Los Angeles, according to the environmentalist site Monga Bay.

Unlike in the US, fires in the Amazon don’t typically start naturally—they’re set deliberately ‘to clear felled trees and plants to make way for agriculture or renew existing pasture,’ Monga Bay reports.

On June 27, the Brazlian government put a moratorium on unauthorized outdoor fires.

Fires in the Amazon don’t typically start naturally—they’re set deliberately to clear felled trees and make room for agriculture. The government put a moratorium on unauthorized outdoor fires in June. Pictured: Fires burn farmland across the Pantanal Wetlands in Mato Grosso state, Brazil in September 2020

However, President Jair Bolsonaro’s deforestation policies have contributed to a 80-plus percent increase in fires in Amazonia between 2018 and 2019, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. 

On August 20, Parrington tweeted that, over the next few days, high concentrations of carbon monoxide from wildfire smoke from North America and Siberia will be blowing about 18,000 feet in the air into Europe.

On August 22, the US’s National Interagency Fire Center reported two new large fires, one in Colorado and another in Minnesota. 

Intense and fast-moving fires also continue to burn in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia in Canada.

Across the nation, 94 ongoing large fires have burned 2.47 million acres so far this year, the center reported—including the Dixie, Caldor, and Monument fires, which ate up thousands of acres over the weekend.

To date in 2021, 41,122 wildfires have burned approximately 4.6 million acres across the US alone.

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