Japan Data

Japanese Study Warns of Deadly Air Pollution Risk from Siberian Wildfires

Science Environment World

As forest fires become more common due to climate change, a Japanese study warns of the risk of major Siberian wildfires causing tens of thousands of air pollution deaths in East Asia.

A research group led by Associate Professor Yasunari Teppei of the Hokkaidō University Arctic Research Center conducted numerical simulation experiments using computer-based climate models to predict the effects of air pollutants arising from large-scale forest fires in Siberia, as wildfires in the region become more common.

Forest fires produce fine air-pollution particles known as atmospheric aerosols, including organic carbon and sulfates, which not only contribute to climate change but also have a wide range of negative effects on human health and the economy. Light is dispersed and absorbed by these aerosols, resulting in less sunlight reaching the earth’s surface. The aerosols contain extremely minute “fine particular matter” (PM2.5) that can reach deep inside a person’s lungs to cause health problems related to the respiratory and circulatory systems.

The research group estimated the impact from these air pollutants, based on the assumption that twice as many would be generated as had been during the large-scale Siberian forest fires of 2003. Along with a cooling effect that would lower temperatures across large areas of the northern hemisphere, such fires would seriously impact countries located downwind in East Asia. Compared with a smaller number of fires, around 23,000 more people could be expected to die in Japan from health problems related to major forest fires in Siberia. In nearby areas of Russia, another 11,000 could be expected to die, as well as 67,000 in China and 4,800 in South Korea. In terms of the economy, losses could be expected to total $83.8 billion in Japan alone.

Estimated Impact of Large-Scale Forest Fires in Siberia

  • Japan
    • Annual increase in deaths: 23,000
    • Economic losses: $83.8 billion
  • Russia
    • Annual increase in deaths: 11,000
    • Economic losses: $15.3 billion
  • China
    • Annual increase in deaths: 67,000
    • Economic losses: $50.7 billion
  • South Korea
    • Annual increase in deaths: Approx. 4,800
    • Economic losses: Approx. $15.5 billion

Created by Nippon.com based on data from the research group led by Hokkaidō University Associate Professor Yasunari Teppei. Statistics for Russia only pertain to the areas surrounding the forest fire.

The analysis of the impact indicates the need for global measures to deal with forest fires amid ongoing climate change, but regarding the estimated figures, Yasunari pointed out that there were a number of assumptions, and there could be errors in the model, so he hoped the results would be considered a basic yardstick for discussion.

The academic paper of Associate Professor Yasunari and his research group was published in Earth’s Future, a scientific journal of the American Geophysical Union.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Forest fire raging near Krasnoyarsk in Russian Siberia on May 3, 2018. © Reuters.)

forest pollution climate change Siberia