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North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

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North America's Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

If you live on the west coast of North America, it’s likely that you’ve felt a bit smoked out, lately.

Wildfires in British Columbia, Canada are already the worst in the province’s history, while California has had a particularly rough season with human deaths, evacuations, and billions of dollars of damage.

Oregon has one confirmed death from a wildfire in mid-July, and Washington hasn’t gotten off easy, either. On July 31, 2018 a state of emergency was declared in the Evergreen State.

Visualizing Wildfires From Space

Today’s image comes to us from NASA, and it shows aerosols around the world including those originating from volcanoes, desert dust, cloud cover, sea-salt – and of course, smoke.

Here’s the same image with labels, indicating black carbon on the west coast of the continent:

Wildfires, hurricanes, and slash and burning

The wildfires are just as visible as the massive slash-and-burning occurring in Central Africa, hurricanes and typhoons, and even the dust swirling up from the Sahara, the world’s largest desert.

Here’s a visualization of the fires in North America, with some extra zoom:

North America smoke

It’s clear from this image that smoke isn’t just affecting the coast – in fact, experts say it has been travelling as far as Ireland, in lesser concentrations of course.

Other Visuals

While we thought the visualization above was the most striking, there are countless of other examples from the last month that show the extent of wildfires and smoke on the west coast.

Here’s another shot from NASA from a few weeks ago, during peak wildfire season in California and Oregon:

And here’s an image of Seattle and Vancouver from mid-August, when smoke from Canadian fires was so bad in those cities that it was like “inhaling seven cigarettes” per day:

Air Quality

Future Forecast

As we roll into September, the worst of the wildfire season is over.

Unfortunately, it’s already been the worst in British Columbia’s history. Here are the 10 worst fire seasons graphed since 1950, based on square kilometers burned:

BC Wildfires
Data as of Aug 29, 2018, and from the BC Forest Service

While this year has been an anomaly, it may also be a preview of what’s to come. One recent report out of California said that the number of wildfires over 25,000 acres is likely to increase by 50% leading up to 2050.

Is this the new normal?

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Top Countries By Forest Growth Since 2001

One country is taking reforestation very seriously, registering more than 400,000 square km of forest growth in two decades.

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A cropped treemap showing the countries by their total forest growth measured in square kilometers.

Ranked: Top Countries By Forest Growth Since 2001

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Reforestation is tricky business: it’s expensive, difficult to plan, and even harder to execute. And this is without all the associated environmental obstacles: weather, pests, and natural calamities.

However, some countries have prioritized replanting their lost forests, especially in the last two decades as the climate movement has gathered steam.

We visualized forest growth around the world, ranking countries by their forest area increases between 2001–2021, measured in square kilometers (km²).

All of this data was sourced from the World Bank. Note that countries are ranked by forest growth in square kilometers, rather than percentage change.

Which Country Leads Forest Growth Since 2001?

China tops the list, expanding its forest area by nearly 425,000 km2 (roughly the size of Sweden) between 2001–21. This is more than the next 19 countries combined. Relatively speaking, China’s forests increased by almost one-fourth.

RankCountryRegion2001–21 Change
(Km2)
% of Forest Growth
1🇨🇳 ChinaAsia424,96224%
2🇺🇸 U.S.North America57,4062%
3🇷🇺 RussiaEurope54,5641%
4🇮🇳 IndiaAsia46,4497%
5🇻🇳 VietnamAsia27,74523%
6🇨🇱 ChileSouth America24,25715%
7🇦🇺 AustraliaOceania24,1782%
8🇹🇷 TurkiyeMiddle East21,34511%
9🇫🇷 FranceEurope19,35313%
10🇪🇸 SpainEurope13,3748%
11🇮🇷 IranMiddle East13,03314%
12🇮🇹 ItalyEurope11,84814%
13🇨🇺 CubaCentral America7,57330%
14🇹🇭 ThailandAsia7,3154%
15🇺🇿 UzbekistanAsia7,15224%
16🇺🇾 UruguaySouth America6,46846%
17🇷🇴 RomaniaEurope5,4829%
18🇧🇬 BulgariaEurope4,94815%
19🇧🇾 BelarusEurope4,7346%
20🇵🇱 PolandEurope4,0905%
N/A🌍 World-957,658-2%

There are some other countries who have achieved similar relative levels of reforestation. Within Asia, Vietnam’s forests as a percentage of total land area have doubled since 1990. Since 2001, its forests have grown nearly 28,000 km², a 23% increase.

Uzbekistan similarly expanded its forested area by 24%, which amounts to about 7,000 km².

Meanwhile, Chile and Uruguay, are the only two South American countries that have managed to expand their forest cover in the last two decades—the latter by a staggering 46%. In contrast, the rest of South America is instead seeing significant deforestation.

It’s interesting to note that reforestation also comes with its own risks. Introducing non-native or monoculture tree species can reduce biodiversity and lead to soil erosion.

And despite global reforestation efforts, the world still lost close to a million square kilometers of forests since 2001.

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Visualizing Asia's Water Dilemma

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