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Trouble in the air: EU climate agency warns of smoke from wildfires

This spring provided little relief for large areas of the Northern Hemisphere and large-scale wildfires have caused dense levels of smoke, according to Copernicus, the EU's climate change service.

(CN) — In another disturbing sign of human-caused global warming, an unusually dry and warm spring in the Northern Hemisphere sparked the outbreak of large-scale wildfires in Eurasia, Canada and Spain, the European Union's climate change research arm said Thursday.

Drought-stricken Spain contended with large wildfires in March that emitted the highest volume of smoke ever recorded during a spring season, the Copernicus Climate Change Service said in its new report.

“The wildfire season in the Northern Hemisphere had an early beginning,” the agency warned.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus, said the fire risk will only get worse as the Northern Hemisphere approaches summer.

Spain is in the midst of a devastating drought that started during last year's record-breaking hot year.

Much of the Iberian peninsula is struggling with water shortages and it's gotten so bad that authorities have imposed severe restrictions in some areas, including on the bustling city of Barcelona and on vital farming regions.

Spain is a dry country and it gets most of its rainfall during the winter and spring months, as is the case across the Mediterranean basin.

But rain has been scarce through the winter and spring months, causing crop failures and the early outbreak of wildfires in March in many parts of Valencia and to a lesser degree in Asturias and Cantabria.

“Having wildfires of these proportions so early in the year is an unusual occurrence,” the report said.

A local resident fights a forest fire with a shovel during a wildfire in Tabara, northwest Spain, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

Extensive wildfires also ravaged parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and bordering regions of Russia.

But Copernicus said that although the fires across this region burned at a high intensity, the overall estimated emissions were on par with the month of May between 2003 and 2022.

Meanwhile, wildfires raged throughout May in western Canada, and smoke from those fires spread into the United States and has made it even as far as Scandinavia and the Arctic Ocean, the service said.

“Canada has reached one of the highest emissions on record for the month of May, breaking the total records in British Colombia, Saskatchewan, Northwest,” the report said.

It's been particularly bad in Saskatchewan, Copernicus noted. The agency said the previous record of emissions from wildfires in May was 2 megatons and this May saw 23 megatons of smoke emitted from that region.

Copernicus is at the forefront of climate change monitoring and operates a fleet of satellites that monitor climate change.

Using its satellites, the agency measures emissions of carbon and a wide range of air pollutants that constitute smoke based on a 20-year dataset.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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