This summer will be remembered for being shrouded in a suffocating haze as wildfire smoke from Canada flowed south into the United States and was seen as far east as Northern Europe.
The smoke from Canada’s record-breaking summer traveled thousands of miles across borders and oceans, demonstrating that particulate pollution from flames is not a regional concern.
In recent years, the American Lung Association’s national senior director for clean air advocacy, William Barrett, has observed that conflagration pollution can travel hundreds to thousands of miles and impact millions of people along the way.
Barrett told that particle pollution is a “key ingredient” of conflagration haze. PM2.5, the smallest particles of air pollution, can make it more difficult to breathe, provoke asthma attacks, and even circumvent the body’s defenses and enter the circulation, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack, he said.
In general, particle pollution is known to induce premature mortality, as stated by Barrett.
In some locations, it also produced apocalyptic-looking skies.
However, while smoke, haze, or orange skies may be one indicator of air quality, the presence of particle pollution at ground level has a greater impact on respiratory health than the visibility of smoke in the sky.
Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, stated, “There are numerous instances in which the smoke is in the atmosphere and visibility is poor, but the air quality is acceptable.”
Experts recommend using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, or AQI, to determine whether particulate pollution levels are unhealthy. When the AQI is below 50, the air quality is excellent. When it exceeds 300, it is considered dangerous.
“Sometimes we can see, smell, and even taste the impacts of wildfire smoke,” Barrett said. Occasionally, we cannot see them as vividly.
The local climate and topography can influence whether this particulate pollution will have an effect and how it will appear in the atmosphere.
Mass stated that higher temperatures increase the risk of wildfires and make it easier for pollution to descend to the ground level, resulting in inferior air quality.
Winds, Jet Streams, and Mountains: Factors Affecting the Spread and Clearance of Wildfire Smoke
The same winds that can cause a wildfire to spread more rapidly can also quickly clear the smoke, according to Talat Odman, a principal research engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology who studies air pollution meteorology. However, changes in the jet stream can result in the smoke being carried farther from its source.
Mass stated that mountain ranges can shield certain regions from more severe air pollution by keeping smoke aloft as it travels.
And despite the fact that two smoke-filled skylines may appear similarly contaminated, their air quality can vary significantly based on the weather, time of day, and particle pollution levels.
However, climate change is intensifying the conditions in which wildfires flourish, which will lead to the spread of smoke-polluted air to additional locations.
Barrett stated, “This is merely an indication that there is not a climate emergency region for wildfires.” “You won’t just see orange hues over the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance. You can now see them over New York City or Washington, D.C., which is further evidence that we must take immediate action to reduce our carbon pollution and do everything we can to safeguard our health during episodes of this nature.”
Seven communities impacted by carbon pollution from wildfires over the past two decades were analyzed. Here are the aspect of the communities and their hourly air quality during the wildfires, as experienced by their residents.