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Copernicus: A summer of extremes as European wildfire emissions reach highest level in 15 years

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Devastating wildfires across Europe this summer caused the highest emissions since 2007, report scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.  CAMS has been monitoring the daily intensity and emissions, and resulting air quality impacts, from these fires throughout the summer along with other wildfires around the world.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) today (6 September) reports that wildfires across Europe caused the highest emissions in 15 years. The combination of August’s heatwave with prolonged dry conditions across western Europe resulted in increased wildfire activity, intensity and persistence.

According to data from the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) which uses satellite observations of wildfire locations and Fire Radiative Power (FRP) - a measure of intensity to estimate emissions of the air pollutants that are present in the smoke - the total wildfire emissions from the European Union plus United Kingdom from 1 June to 31 August 2022 are estimated to be 6.4 megatonnes of carbon, the highest level for these months since the summer of 2007.

CAMS, implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the European Union, reports that the emissions recorded for summer 2022 were largely driven by the devastating wildfires across southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula, with France and Spain experiencing their highest wildfire emissions in the last 20 years.

In other regions around the northern hemisphere, which typically experience a peak in wildfire activity during the summer months, the total estimated emissions were considerably less than in recent years, despite some devastating fires. The Sakha Republic and Chukotka Autonomous Oblast in the far east of Russia did not experience as much fire as recent summers with the majority of fires this summer further south in Khabarovsk Krai. More central and westerly regions of Russia, including Khanty-Mansy Autonomous Okrug and Ryazan Oblast, experienced higher numbers of wildfires resulting in several days of thick smoke and degraded air quality. Total estimated emissions from the fires in the Central Federal District of Russia were the highest since the large peat fires which affected western Russia in 2010.

In North America, wildfires which had started burning in Alaska in May continued through June and early July with large fires in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada. In the Western United States daily total fire intensity and seasonal total emissions were much lower for California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana in comparison to the summers of 2020 and 2021 and were more typical for the time of year, according to the CAMS GFAS data.

Meanwhile, the fire season has been developing in the Amazon region through August into September. Above average daily fire emissions from the Legal Amazon in Brazil in the second half of August, resulted in one of the highest total estimated emissions for the period since 2010 (along with 2019-2021). In contrast to the whole Legal Amazon, the state of Amazonas experienced fire emissions well above average, resulting in the second highest July-August totals (following 2021) of the last 20 years. The first few days of September have seen clear increases in fires across the Amazon region, with daily values well above average, in several Amazon states resulting in a large area of smoke over South America. CAMS is continuing to closely monitor both the fire emissions and resulting smoke across the region.

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Mark Parrington, Senior Scientist and wildfire expert from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, comments: “The scale and persistence of the fires in the southwest of Europe leading to the highest emissions for Europe in 15 years was extremely concerning throughout the summer. The majority of the fires occurred in places where the changing climate has increased flammability of the vegetation such as in southwestern Europe, and as we have seen in other regions in other years.  CAMS is now closely monitoring the current fire emissions and smoke transport in the Amazon region, and across South America, as the peak fire season approaches in the coming weeks.”

More information on how CAMS monitors wildfires across the globe, including the location, intensity, and estimated emissions, as well as smoke transport and composition, can be found on its Global fire monitoring page.

This article provides further insights and information on observed fires in summer 2022

Find out more about fire monitoring in the CAMS Wildfire Q&As

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