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Scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service are predicting very high levels of surface ozone pollution across a large region of Europe as temperatures soar. Meanwhile, wildfires have been increasing across southern Europe.

Scientists at The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) are warning very high levels of ozone pollution in southern Europe caused by the heatwave could now affect northwestern regions in the next few days. The prediction comes after extremely high surface ozone pollution was experienced across western and southern Europe, particularly over the Iberian Peninsula and parts of northern Italy.

CAMS, which is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the European Union, continues to monitor surface ozone concentrations following the increase in levels caused by the heatwave, alongside devastating wildfires.

In mid-July, daily maximum values of surface ozone, which peak during the middle of the day, reached unhealthy levels in Portugal, Spain and Italy with some locations measuring in excess of 200 μg/m3. While concentrations are forecast to ease across the Iberian Peninsula, they have been increasing to levels above 120 μg/m3 across northern and western parts of Europe since 18 July as the heatwave brings record temperatures. They are forecast to peak between 18 and 20 July before easing.

Ozone at the Earth’s surface is a key air pollutant that can affect human health, agriculture and even ecosystems. Ozone (O3) is a reactive gas within two layers of the atmosphere, the stratosphere (between altitudes of approximately 15 and 50 km) and the troposphere (up to approximately 15 km altitude). The well-known ozone layer in the stratosphere protects life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. However, at lower altitudes, it plays different roles as a major greenhouse gas, in regulating atmospheric composition, and as a component of air pollutant where it is one of the main elements of urban smog. As it is a secondary gas formed by the interaction of sunlight with volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emitted by fossil fuels and other man-made sources, cutting emissions is crucial.

Mark Parrington, Senior Scientist from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), comments: “The potential impacts of very high ozone pollution on human health can be considerable both in terms of respiratory and cardio-vascular illness. Higher values can lead to symptoms such as sore throat, coughing, headache and an increased risk of asthma attacks. The Clean Air Alliance estimates that ozone pollution causes approximately one million additional deaths per year. This is why it is crucial that we monitor surface ozone levels.”

Wildfires continue to sweep across parts of Southwest Europe

As well as increased ozone pollution, the European heatwave is also exacerbating the scale and intensity of wildfires currently raging across southern Europe, especially in southwestern France, Spain and Portugal. The worst affected regions to date include the Gironde region south of Bordeaux, Extremadura and Galicia in Spain, and parts of Portugal. Tinder dry conditions and extreme heat are exacerbating the risk of wildfires and fire danger forecasts from ECMWF, available through the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, warn a large proportion of western Europe is in ‘extreme fire danger’ with some areas of ‘very extreme fire danger’. In addition, the CAMS GFAS system based on satellite observations of wildfire locations and Fire Radiative Power (FRP), a measure of intensity used to estimate the emissions of smoke pollutants. The total estimated wildfire emissions of carbon from the wildfires in Spain between 1 June and 18 July are already higher than the June-July totals from 2003 to 2021 in the CAMS GFAS dataset.

Top row: CAMS Fire Radiative Power estimations for France, Spain and Portugal. Bottom row: CAMS GFAS system showing wildfire carbon emissions for the same countries for June and July. Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service website can be found at http://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/

The Copernicus Climate Change Service website can be found at https://climate.copernicus.eu/

More information on Copernicus: www.copernicus.eu

The ECMWF website can be found at https://www.ecmwf.int/