Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house in spain
Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house after a wildfire in the Valle del Arlanza, near Burgos in Spain on July 25, 2022. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.


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Swedish researchers discover unusually deep methane leak in Baltic Sea

Researchers in Sweden have discovered large amounts of methane gas, a powerful planet-warming gas, leaking from unusual depths on the Baltic Sea seabed, they said on Friday.

Swedish researchers discover unusually deep methane leak in Baltic Sea

A recent expedition found methane gas bubbling up from a depth of 400 metres (1,312 feet) at Landsortsdjupet, off of Nynäshamn on Sweden’s southeastern coast, in a 20-square-kilometre (7.7-square-mile) area.

Methane gas is formed by microorganisms that live in the seabed’s deep sediment layers, and is emitted into the atmosphere by leaks in fossil fuel installations as well as from other human-caused sources like livestock farming and landfills.

While it remains present in the atmosphere for a shorter period, methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming, and is responsible for roughly 30 percent of the global rise in temperatures to date, even though it is far less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2.

“We know that methane gas can bubble up from shallow seabeds near the Baltic Sea coast, but I’ve never seen such intense bubbles before and definitely not from such a deep area,” researcher Christian Stranne said in a statement from Stockholm University.

He was part of the research project conducted by Stockholm University and Linnaeus University.

Normally, researchers would expect to see methane bubbles rising up at a height of 150-200 metres from the seabed, but in this case they were surprised to observe them at a height of 370 metres from the seabed — unusually close to the surface.

“The methane in the bubbles dissolves in the sea and therefore they usually gradually decrease in size as they rise toward the surface,” Stranne explained. “I am not aware of any study where such resilient bubbles have been observed at these depths.”

“It could be a new world record, and it could force us to reevaluate the role of deep areas in terms of their contribution to methane in the surface water,” he added.

He said the phenomenon may be linked to the oxygen-free conditions in the Baltic Sea’s deep waters.

The bubbles remain more intact in this environment, making the methane transport to the surface more efficient, Stranne explained.

He said there may also be other similar methane leaks in other parts of the Baltic Sea. Researchers now hope to do further analyses to determine why so much methane gas is being released in this particular area.

“Knowledge about the factors that govern how much methane is produced in these deeper areas and where the methane goes is lacking,” said project leader Marcelo Ketzer, professor of environmental science at Linnaeus University.