A plume of smoke and soot emanating from the ongoing wildfires in Canada has crossed the Atlantic and is now hovering over Western Europe. Images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite on Monday, June 26 show the enormous cloud of black carbon extending across more than 3,220 kilometers (2,000 miles) of ocean and invading the skies above Portugal and Spain.
According to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), the foreign plume first reached the Azores islands on June 25 before continuing on to the Iberian Peninsula. Made up of fine particulate matter and gases such as carbon monoxide, the cloud is expected to leave a haze over parts of Europe before dissipating on June 29.
Canada is currently in the midst of its most severe fire season on record, with the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service estimating that a record 160 million tonnes of carbon have been released since May. As of June 28, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre is reporting that there are currently 487 active fires across the country, of which 253 are categorized as out of control.
The agency also says that an area covering 7.9 million hectares (almost 20 million acres) has now been burned by this year’s fires.
Aside from the destruction of massive amounts of forest, the relentless flames have also sparked a major public health concern as smoke spreads to populated areas. Air quality in Montreal is currently ranked as the worst in the world, while air quality warnings have been issued in numerous cities across the Midwestern US.
According to the BBC, air pollution in places like Chicago and Michigan has now reached a level considered “very unhealthy”, although the situation is not as severe as it was in New York earlier this month, when smoke contamination soared to more than five times the safe limit.
Over in Europe, the smoke is reported to be lingering at altitudes of over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), which means it is unlikely to cause a deterioration in air quality or pose a threat to human health. However, sensors in France and Spain have detected a significant increase in aerosol optical depth, which provides a measure of how hazy the sky is.
According to the UK’s Met Office, the lingering smoke is likely to continue to affect the clarity of the air and sky over the coming days, and could make for some dramatic sunrises and sunsets.