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Canadian forest fires add to U.S. pollution
Forest fires burning in Canada's Northwest Territories in 1995 contributed to high levels of carbon monoxide more than 2,000 miles away in the eastern United States, according to a study in today's issue of Science.
"Fires can have a far reach," said Gerhard Wotawa, a scientist at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna, Austria. "Together with local and regional manmade pollution sources, the fires also contributed to increased ozone levels."
An extended heat wave occurred during the summer of 1995 and particularly high ozone concentrations were recorded in the eastern United States. Before this study, the sources of the pollution were never satisfactorily explained, said Wotawa.
The scientists believe plumes of carbon monoxide and ozone from the forest fires were transported to the eastern United States on the tails of cold fronts a phenomenon that Wotawa says is fairly common.
"We are confident that, after this publication, quite a few episodes of pollution from forest fires will be detected," he said.
It is important to note, however, that human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and energy generation are the main sources of air pollution, said Wotawa.
Natural factors such as forest fires further affect air quality by emitting carbon monoxide and other gases that lead to the production of ozone. High amounts of ozone can be dangerous to vegetation and human health.
In the United States, national ambient air quality standards have led to efforts to reduce human emissions that cause pollution. This study suggests that the impact of natural fires at high latitudes must be taken into account in determining the causes of pollution.
In 1995, forest fires in Canada burned more than 17 million acres, an area half the size of Florida. Forest fires have been increasing in remote regions of North America during the past decade due to prolonged drought periods and climate variability.
"Huge fires do not only occur in Canada, but also in Alaska, in less populated areas in the United States and, not to forget, in many parts of Russia," said Wotawa.
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