According to new satellite data, wildfires raging in France have already released record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, almost equal to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 790,000 cars, Reuters reports.

The fires, which consumed large parts of the southwestern Gironde region, released nearly 1 million tons of carbon between June and August, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS).

This amount is roughly equal to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 790,000 cars

Over the past two decades, France has averaged around 300,000 tonnes of annual carbon emissions from fires.

Spain also recorded record emissions

The only year that has come close to France’s record this summer is 2003 – coincidentally, the same year satellite monitoring began. Following the summer’s intense heat and dry conditions since then, about 650,000 tons of carbon were released from the June-August wildfires.

Emissions data from south-west Europe provide a “reflection of the size and persistence of fires”, said Mark Parrington, senior researcher at CAMS. This, he added, is linked to the fact that plants and trees in the region have become more flammable under “long-term, drier and warmer conditions”.

Spain also saw record wildfire emissions during the heat wave in mid-July, CAMS reported last month. By comparison, wildfires in Portugal resulted in lower emissions than in previous years.

Wildfires also release other pollutants

More than 60,000 hectares (230 square miles) have burned in France so far this year, six times more than the full-year average from 2006 to 2021, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System.

Although France’s emissions are “pretty negligible” when it comes to global wildfire emissions, Parrington said, the fires have a big impact on regional air quality.

Recent satellite images show a huge plume of smoke billowing across the Bay of Biscay. In addition to carbon, wildfires also release other pollutants, such as particulate matter 2.5, that can make people sick.

Smoke has also been found to reduce solar energy production, in some cases by nearly half. This is because small airborne particles from fires can prevent solar energy from reaching the panels.

The Gironde region of France is home to a solar panel facility with a capacity of 40,000 solar panels that provide electricity for nearly 13,000 people.

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