Map Monday: looking at air quality in a world wracked by wildfires

The topic of this week’s Map Monday was inspired by a link sent to me by a friend.  Thanks, Sharon. The world is watching the horrific wildfires in California, Oregon, and the state of Washington, which are following closely on similar wildfires of historic proportions last year in Australia, Siberia and other parts of the Arctic. Climate change on the march. Man-made climate change.

It’s not just burning millions upon millions of acres of forest, destroying whole towns, killing people, and killing animals along with their habitats.  It’s also having a frightening impact on the air quality for people in the fire zones and far beyond as the smoke drifts north and east. A large chunk of the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta have seen nothing but haze for the past several days, and their lungs are feeling it.

Poor air quality has been known to be a serious health risk for a very long time.  In this time of COVID-19, which attacks the victims’ lungs in ways we don’t even understand yet, this air quality deterioration is even more threatening.

The following two maps can be enlarged and explored with ease by following the link to the source.

Air Pollution in the World: Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map

Expand and explore at website https://aqicn.org/map/world/

Expand and explore at website https://aqicn.org/map/northamerica/

In the first map you will see that  the wildfires in the western U.S. are resulting in the most hazardous air quality in the world. The North American map does a better job of showing how the dangerous particle-filled smoke is causing the southwestern portion of Canada to be exposed to similar levels of risk.

This map from NASA’s Earth Observatory shows a number of major climate events that impact air quality. This visualization is from August 2018, so if this season is of historic magnitude, this gives you an idea of just how impactful the changes are to the planet.

A visualization of the particles and droplets in the air from the NASA Earth Observatory

NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC.  Expand and explore at website https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/28/nasa-visualization-shows-california-wildfires.html

The next map is one of many that can be found by googling, giving a sense of the historical fire weather index around the world. This map shows the average fire weather index in July from 1980-2012. And it has accelerated rapidly since then. Causes: less precipitation in fire-prone areas, hotter temperatures in fire-prone areas, and stronger winds in fire-prone areas. All caused by climate change. And presenting a grave public health risk on top of the loss of property, loss of life, and loss of animal habitat and natural resources.

A less discussed but just as critical impact of wildfires is the increase in CO2 levels they create. In an average year, wildfires around the world burn an area equivalent to the size of India and emit more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than global road, rail, shipping and air transport combined.  That’s scary.

Further reading if you’re interested:

Global risk of wildfires on the rise as the climate warms, study says

Explainer: How climate change is affecting wildfires around the world

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11 Responses to Map Monday: looking at air quality in a world wracked by wildfires

  1. 😀 I’m often wondering ‘will Jane one day run out of maps?’

  2. Photographs of these out of control firestorms are truly spine chilling, alas climate change is very real but is it too late?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh, A.S., what a sad but valid and critical question. Our chances sure aren’t helped by the world’s richest country having a president who denies climate change, pretty well denies most science of any kind, and is turning back as many environmental protections as possible. It may not be too late, but it’s damn close. 😥

  3. A horrible inferno. And as your maps indicate, there is no “there.” Everywhere is here.

  4. Once again, fascinating maps! I’m one of the many in British Columbia who’s experiencing the haze, but it’s nothing compared to what the folks in CA, Oregon, and Washington State are going through. Keeping my thoughts and prayers for them.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Debra, you are so right. The smoke is one thing – bad enough, and please be careful – but the fires that are causing it are scenes from hell itself. It’s hard to take in. 😥

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