NEW DELHI: As massive fire engulfed forest in Uttarakhand last month, a study by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) finds that such high magnitude events have the potential to destroy a wide variety of flora and fauna as level of pollution elevates much higher than some of the highly polluted cities in the country.
The Hyderabad based NRSC studied forest fire induced changes in atmosphere over Uttarakhand, using space based observations and model simulations. The study revealed that concentrations of trace gases and aerosol rose to alarming levels during another massive fire event in April-May 2016. "CO (carbon monoxide) levels were more than double the normal values while NO2 (nitrogen oxide) concentrations were nearly three times the normal values.
Elevated levels of AOD (aerosol optical depth) also indicate that substantial amount of aerosols was emitted during the main phase as well as towards the end of the fire event," said the study. Forest fires are major source of trace gases and aerosols, and the emissions influence the chemical composition of earth's atmosphere and climate system significantly.
"Various pollutants released by forest fire events include trace gases such as CO, CO2 (carbon dioxide), NO2, CH4 (methane) and ozone in addition to photo chemically reactive compounds, and fine and coarse particulate matter. Through direct emissions as well as secondary physical and chemical processes, forest fire can have a significant impact on the tropospheric chemistry and also can serve as a major source of air pollution," noted the researchers in the study.
Citing others, the researchers said that bio-mass burning has significant effect on the concentrations of CO in the atmosphere and the amount of CO emitted during a forest fire episode can match the entire anthropogenic contribution in a year. The study highlights that the transport of CO and other pollutants in an ecologically and environmentally sensitive area can have potential effects. "Immediate effects include changes in local weather and environment. Long-term impact includes effect of snow albedo and glacier melt. A detailed study on the extent of damage to the glacial belt needs to be ascertained through more ground based studies," it added.