INDIA – NEW DELHI: As massive fires engulfed forests in Uttarakhand last month, a study by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) found that such high-magnitude events had the potential to destroy a wide variety of flora and fauna as the levels of pollution become higher than those in some highly polluted cities in the country.
The Hyderabad-based NRSC studied changes induced by forest fires in the atmosphere over Uttarakhand, using space-based observations and model simulations. The study revealed that concentrations of trace gases and aerosols rose to alarming levels during a massive fire in April-May 2016.“CO (carbon monoxide) levels were more than double the normal values, while NO2 (nitrogen oxide) concentrations were nearly three times the normal values.
“Elevated levels of AOD (aerosol optical depth) also indicate that substantial amount of aerosols was emitted during the main phase as well as towards the end of the fire event,” said the NRSC study.Forest fires are major sources of trace gases and aerosols, and the emissions influence the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system significantly.
“Various pollutants released by forest fire events include trace gases such as CO, CO2 (carbon dioxide), NO2, CH4 (methane) and ozone, in addition to photo-chemically reactive compounds, and fine and coarse particulate matter. Through direct emissions as well as secondary physical and chemical processes, forest fires can have a significant impact on the tropospheric chemistry and also can serve as a major source of air pollution,” noted the researchers in the study.
Citing other sources, the researchers said that biomass burning had a significant effect on the concentrations of CO in the atmosphere and the amount of CO emitted during a forest fire episode could match the entire anthropogenic contribution in a year.The study highlights that the transport of CO and other pollutants in an ecologically and environmentally sensitive area can have potential effects.
“Immediate effects include changes in local weather and environment. Long-term impact includes effect of snow albedo and glacier melting. A detailed study on the extent of damage to the glacial belt needs to be ascertained through more ground-based studies,” the NRSC study added.
Pollutants released by forest fires: Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane, ozone, and fine and coarse particulate matter
Carbon monoxide emitted during a forest fire can match the entire anthropogenic contribution in a year