July 23. 2024. 2:04

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Saharan dust, volcanic eruptions and wildfires all affecting the air we breathe


The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) routinely tracks key indicators of the composition of the atmosphere all around the globe, including surface air quality in Europe, smoke emissions from wildfires, and global concentrations of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases, amongst others. During the boreal spring (March-April-May) 2024, there were several relevant atmospheric composition related events, that are presented in this seasonal summary.

CAMS Data in Action – CAMS and the new European Ambient Air Quality Directive

With the goal of further tackling the negative effects that air pollution has on the health of Europeans, the European Commission has updated the European Ambient Air Quaity Directives (AAQD) with a view to achieving a healthier and more sustainable future. The new Directives set more ambitious goals for 2030 and stricter limits for several air pollutants. To accomplish this, the Directives give science a special role in monitoring air quality in order to provide accurate, reliable and comparable information to the Member States.

CAMS is mentioned explicitly in this revision of the AAQD, as the data CAMS produces are a particularly useful tool, enabling Member States to elaborate new strategies to reduce air pollution effectively, as well as to evaluate the progress made in reaching their environmental goals.

Laurence Rouil, CAMS Director, says: “This is an important commitment of the European Union to ensure good air quality for our society. And this is, as well, an important moment for the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, that shows that we have reached maturity as an operational service. CAMS is fully ready to support EU Member States who request our services in their evaluation and quality assessment activities following the application of the AAQD.

What is more, CAMS has developed new activities to facilitate uptake of CAMS products by the Member States: National Collaboration Programmes support national experts in using and adapting CAMS products and tools to better fit to their own needs and to further develop their ownership in application of the Directives.”

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Fire emissions monitoring– wildfire season in the tropics

The emissions from wildfires and open burning in Southeast Asia, between January and May, were less intense in 2024 than in previous years, in terms of their emissions (including carbon, aerosols and air pollutants) and Fire Radiative Power (FRP). CAMS monitored the development of fires in this region throughout the spring and observed below average emissions for the 2024 season despite an increase in late April and early May. Despite the below average emissions, the fires during the season contributed to degraded air quality in addition to other emission sources.

Several regions of tropical South America, particularly Venezuela and neighbouring countries, experienced increased fire activity due to the drier conditions at the end of 2023. Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Bolivia, and the Brazilian state of Roraima experienced record FRP values and high carbon emissions between 1st January and 15th May. Additionally, since late March, Mexico and Central America have faced significant wildfire activity, leading to above-average carbon emissions for this time of year.

Another relevant episode monitored by CAMS in recent months was the early start to the wildfire season in Canada. According to CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) data, wildfire emissions during May 2024 in British Columbia were more than double the previous highest level recorded in May 2023, with Canada’s total emissions in May were also one of the highest in the past 22 years. CAMS is continuing to monitor the wildfire situation across North America, Europe and Siberia as the summer progresses.

Volcanic SO2 monitoring – Reykjanes and Ruang volcano eruptions

The Mount Ruang Volcano, located in Sulawesi, Indonesia, erupted on 16 April for the first time since 2002. CAMS closely monitored sulfur dioxide (SO2) and sulfate aerosols emitted by the eruptions to assess the long-range transport of the plumes and the impacts on the atmosphere and local air quality.

The ash plume generated by the initial eruption is estimated to have reached above 15 km. Additionally, the SO2 plumes observed as a result of the eruption were transported over great distances, reaching India and even the Horn of Africa. However, the volcanic eruption only affected air quality locally, as this transport has occurred at high altitudes.

CAMS has also been following closely the volcanic activity on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula. On March 16 the volcano erupted, in an episode that lasted until May 9. A couple of weeks later, on May 29, a new episode began resulting in further emissions of SO2.

If you are interested in CAMS monitoring of volcanic SO2, you can read our Volcano Q&A.

Recurrent Saharan dust episodes affect Europe

Spring in Southern Europe was dominated by recurring intrusions of Saharan dust. Between 1 March and 31 May, CAMS observed several episodes where high concentrations of particulate matter crossed the Mediterranean. One of the most significant of these episodes took place between April 22 and April 24 and affected Greece in particular. As a result of this episode, red- and orange-coloured skies were experienced in many parts of Greece, including Athens.

Observations are showing an increase in the intensity and frequency of these events for some parts of Europe in recent years.

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