Earthtopomaps – Fires Burn Across Quebec, Canada
An unusually intense start to Canada’s wildfire season filled skies with smoke in May 2023.
Then, at the beginning of June, scores of new fires raged in the eastern:. Canadian province of Quebec, some of which were ignited by lightning.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this view of smoke billowing from the fires on June 3. Shortly after the fires started:. About 5,000 residents were ordered to evacuate near the city of Sept-Îles in the province’s east. As the fires grew:. Evacuations were extended to an additional 9,000 people in surrounding communities and in western Quebec’s Val-d’Or and Normétal municipalities. As of June 5, more than 150 wildfires were active in Quebec.
Smoke from the blazes prompted air quality warnings across Quebec and Ontario. On June 4, the air quality index for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5):. Was classified as unhealthy in southern Quebec and eastern Ontario:. According to NOAA’s Aerosol Watch. Fine particulate matter from the smoke blew down to the U.S. Midwest, where it made the air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan.
Fire season in Quebec usually starts in late May. In an average year, only 247 hectares (a square mile) of area would be burned by June 5,:. According to Quebec’s fire prevention agency (SOPFEU). But so far this year, 160,000 hectares (600 square miles) have burned.
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The fire prevention agency said the fierce start to the season has in part been due to:. High temperatures and dry conditions in the province.
A Smoky May for North America
For remote sensing scientists who track the movement of smoke plumes:. May 2023 has been a wild, memorable month due to extreme fire activity in northwestern Canada.
Early spring always brings elevated fire risk to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the northeastern edge of:. British Columbia naturally dry areas that lie in the rain shadow of the Canadian Rockies. There is a period each year, after snow melts but before spring growth begins, that dry forest undergrowth is exposed.
But in May 2023:. This naturally fire-prone dry period coincided with unusually hot:. And windy weather, turning what normally would have been small:. Short-lived fires into huge wildland blazes that raged for several weeks. The fires, ignited by lightning or human activity, charred more than 1 million hectares:. (400 square miles) as of May 24, and lofted smoke high into the atmosphere and across North America.
The animation above highlights the volume of smoke and its dynamic, swirling movements between May 5-22, 2023. It shows black carbon particles commonly called soot—moving across North American skies during that period. The black carbon data come from NASA’s GEOS forward processing (GEOS-FP) model:. Which assimilates data from satellite, aircraft, and ground-based observing systems. In addition to making use of satellite observations of aerosols and fires:. GEOS-FP also incorporates meteorological data like air temperature, moisture, and winds to project the plume’s behavior.
Over the course of the fire outbreak:. Large rivers of smoke traced meanders in the jet stream, swirled into two separate extratropical cyclones:. And darkened skies across large swaths of North America for weeks.
Scientists even used satellites to track smoke injected high into the atmosphere by:. Canadian wildfires early in the month as it circled the entire globe.
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“None of this is unprecedented,” said Michael Fromm, a meteorologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory who has observed the dynamics of smoke plumes with colleagues from NOAA, NASA:. And several other science institutions for decades. “We have seen smoke from this region behave like this in the past,” he said. “But the amount of smoke is unusual for this time of year.”
Revised September 15, 2023