EU scientists: 2021's massive wildfires emitted record levels of C02

Heavy plumes of smoke billow from the Dixie fire above the Plumas National Forest, seen from Oroville, California, on July 22, 2021. File Photo by Peter DaSilva/UPI
Heavy plumes of smoke billow from the Dixie fire above the Plumas National Forest, seen from Oroville, California, on July 22, 2021. File Photo by Peter DaSilva/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Massive wildfires in North America, Siberia and elsewhere combined this year to produce the highest levels of carbon dioxide emissions from fires ever seen, European Union climatologists said Monday.

The eastern and central Mediterranean and North Africa also were hot spots during 2021's record 1,760 megatons of carbon emitted globally due to rampant wildfires, the EU's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported.


In July, when wildfires around the world were responsible for 343 megatons of emissions, more than half of the total was due just to fires in North America and Siberia, the researchers said.

"This followed intense and persistent fire activity in western Siberia and Canada in April, which coincided with anomalously high surface temperatures in these regions," the CAMS scientists wrote.

The situation in August was worse, with monthly total estimated emissions even higher -- an estimated 378 megatons of carbon was released into the atmosphere globally, according to the agency's Global Fire Assimilation System.

To put the year's total of 1,760 megatons into perspective, the scientists noted that the total emissions from fossil fuel in the EU in 2020 amounted to 2,600 megatons.

In other words, wildfires this year generated the equivalent of 68% of total EU fossil fuel emissions in 2020, they said.


"As the year draws to a close, we have seen extensive regions experience intense and prolonged wildfire activity," CAMS senior scientist and wildfire expert Mark Parrington said. "Drier and hotter regional conditions under a changing climate have increased the risk of flammability and fire risk of vegetation."

A "huge number" of wildfires raged across areas of western Siberia during the early summer of 2021, especially around the cities of Omsk and Tyumen, resulting in daily emissions at well above the mean of the previous 18 years.

They spread to northeastern Siberia later in the summer, which from June to August saw the highest-ever total in the agency's dataset for the region.

Meanwhile, a summer of intense wildfires in several Canadian provinces, California and the Pacific Northwest states resulted in an estimated total carbon emissions of approximately 83 megatons into the atmosphere, CAMS said.

The summer included the largest recorded fire in California state history, dubbed the Dixie Fire, which burned through almost a million acres before it was finally 100% contained in October.

A large plume of smoke from the U.S. and Canadian fires crossed the North Atlantic and, mixing with wildfires from Siberia, reached western parts of the British Isles and northwest Europe in late August before traveling across large parts of continent.


"It is clear from 2021 that climate change is providing the ideal environments for wildfires, which can also be exacerbated by local weather conditions," Parrington said.

Scenes from California's record-breaking wildfire season

Smoke from fires in Northern California lowers visability of the Bay Bridge and San Francico as viewed from Yerba Buena Island on October 2. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

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