Relentless Wildfires in Canada

Relentless Wildfires in Canada

Fires happen every summer in Canada, but not at the scale seen in 2023. Data released by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre indicates that in early August—about halfway through the fire season—the number of hectares burned throughout the country was roughly double what is normally burned during an entire season. As of August 10, 2023, that area totaled 13.5 million hectares (33.4 million acres), about the size of the state of Mississippi.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image on August 8, 2023. Dense plumes of smoke streamed from dozens of large fires in the Northwest Territories, including several that raged around Yellowknife, the province’s capital and largest city. Firefighters are conducting controlled burns around the city’s perimeter as a cautionary measure, according to the CBC. Fires in the Northwest Territories this month follow major outbreaks of fire in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, in May, June, and July.

Carbon emissions from Canada’s fires have also been extremely high, according to data shared by Mark Parrington, an atmospheric scientist with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). Parrington tracks fires for the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) using a satellite-based data record that began in 2003.

In early August, carbon emissions from Canadian wildfires had already passed 300 megatons, about three times what has been generated during the course of an entire fire season in recent decades. CAMS estimates near real-time wildfire emissions using its Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS), which aggregates observations of fires made by NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Michala Garrison, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.

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