Aug 14, 2018

Great, Now Canadian Wildfire Smoke Is Crossing the Atlantic

British Columbia
Brian Kahn
Smoke is clearly visible on GOES-16 satellite imagery crossing the Atlantic. Image: NOAA
Smoke is clearly visible on GOES-16 satellite imagery crossing the Atlantic. Image: NOAA

The western half of North America has turned into a funeral pyre for forests. We’ve heard a lot about California recently, but British Columbia is also in serious trouble. There are about 600 blazes currently turning the province into a smoldering morass, including 145 new fires that lit up on Saturday by a lightning storm. All those fires have sent a river of smoke and ash streaming across Canada and out over the Atlantic.

The smoke is forecast to reach Ireland and the UK by Wednesday morning, according to tweets from European fire expert Mark Parrington. Washington state and other parts of the western U.S. are also getting a taste of the smoke as well it drifts south (in addition to smoke from California as it drifts north). 

Smoke is also creating a major public health issue closer to the source. The provincial government uses a 10-point scale to rank air quality with one being a breath of fresh air and 10 being extremely unhealthy. Much of metro Vancouver is currently scoring an eight, which is not good. In Quesnel, a small town in central British Columbia near some of the largest fires, the air quality health index used by the British Columbia government to rank unhealthy air is off the charts, ranking as a 10+.


As with California, hot, dry weather has been a major player in increasing the risk of fires like these and yes, that’s right in line with climate trends. You probably know what’s driving those trends, but if not, here’s Mike Flannigan, a fire expert at the University of Alberta, in the Narwhal (emphasis theirs):

My colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change. I can’t be more clear on that. Human-caused climate change.”

In addition to destroying forests and homes, changing the food web, and creating a public health hazard, the fires are also releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide that was stored in trees. That means fires that are being tied to climate change are also making the problem worse.