Articles | Volume 16, issue 9
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 5685–5703, 2016
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 5685–5703, 2016

Research article 10 May 2016

Research article | 10 May 2016

Air quality impacts of European wildfire emissions in a changing climate

Wolfgang Knorr1, Frank Dentener2, Stijn Hantson3, Leiwen Jiang4,5, Zbigniew Klimont6, and Almut Arneth3 Wolfgang Knorr et al.
  • 1Physical Geography and Ecosystem Analysis, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, 22362 Lund, Sweden
  • 2European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra, Italy
  • 3Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 4Asian Demographic Research Institute, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200444, China
  • 5National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 6International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

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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Short summary
Wildfires are generally expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change. For Europe this could mean increased air pollution levels during the summer. Until 2050, predicted changes are moderate, but under a scenario of strong climate change, these may increase considerably during the later part of the current century. In Portugal and several parts of the Mediterranean, emissions may become relevant for meeting WHO concentration targets.
Final-revised paper