Air quality impacts of European wildfire emissions in a changing climate
Abstract. Wildfires are not only a threat to human property and a vital element of many ecosystems, but also an important source of air pollution. In this study, we first review the available evidence for a past or possible future climate-driven increase in wildfire emissions in Europe. We then introduce an ensemble of model simulations with a coupled wildfire–dynamic-ecosystem model, which we combine with published spatial maps of both wildfire and anthropogenic emissions of several major air pollutants to arrive at air pollutant emission projections for several time slices during the 21st century. The results indicate moderate wildfire-driven emission increases until 2050, but there is a possibility of large increases until the last decades of this century at high levels of climate change. We identify southern and north-eastern Europe as potential areas where wildfires may surpass anthropogenic pollution sources during the summer months. Under a scenario of high levels of climate change (Representative Concentration Pathway, RCP, 8.5), emissions from wildfires in central and northern Portugal and possibly southern Italy and along the west coast of the Balkan peninsula are projected to reach levels that could affect annual mean particulate matter concentrations enough to be relevant for meeting WHO air quality targets.
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