Southern Ontario has seen high amounts of smoke and smog this summer, causing hazy skies. The drop in air quality is linked to wildfires in northwestern Ontario that are growing out of control.
Wildfires are a natural occurrence, and in small amounts, they can be beneficial for the environment. However, this year has seen more than the usual amount of fire and smoke.
Hind Al-Abadleh, a chemistry professor from Wilfrid Laurier University, has been researching the causes of these fires.
“Scientists have predicted that forested areas will experience increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, one of the major impacts of climate change,” Al-Abadleh said. “It is not surprising that’s been happening. But the rate at which we are experiencing it is faster than the predictions. And this is what’s concerning.”
Al-Abadleh explained that burning fossil fuels has led to an increase in global temperatures, creating a dry heat that increases the risk of spontaneous fires. Uncontrolled fire spread can damage forests and surrounding areas, and it also poses a smoke inhalation health risk.
Although the fires are located in northwestern Ontario, their effects can be seen hundreds of kilometres away.
“The folks near the forest fires have much higher impact than we do, but because of the way the winds have been blowing, some of that forest fire smoke has drifted over southern Ontario,” Peter Kimball, a meteorologist for Environment Canada, said.
In July and August, there were several days where the air quality index in Waterloo, Ont. dipped into the moderate risk range. When air quality is low, people may experience trouble breathing due to harmful gases and smoke particulates in the air.
Unfortunately, the fires are not likely to stop anytime soon.
“The smoke will probably be persisting into September, and this kind of thing could recur in southern Ontario for some time yet,” Kimball said.
The main cause of climate change is linked to the burning of fossil fuels. However, Al-Abadleh encourages Ontario residents to learn about how they can prevent climate change on an individual level.
“Examine your carbon intense lifestyle. Are there areas in your lifestyle that you can tackle that will minimize your carbon footprint?”