Spikes in noxious emissions have been observed in mountainous areas in Cork, Kerry and Wicklow and the Comeragh Mountains in recent weeks, due to “reckless and irresponsible” fire starting.
While there has been a notable decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels in urban areas due to a falloff in traffic and a decline in industry since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, some rural areas have been observed with higher levels, data from the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) found.
Using technology from the European Space Agency, ICHEC found spikes in nitrogen dioxide emissions visible from the Cork and Kerry mountains on March 21, the Wicklow mountains on March 19 and 30, and the Comeragh Mountains on March 21.
ICHEC environmental programme manager Alastair McKinstry said: “As nitrogen dioxide is a gas created from the burning of fossil fuels, it looks like these red areas are related to fires.
Deliberately burning agricultural material is not only illegal but, given the fires in the Killarney National Park last weekend, is a drain on emergency services at a time when these services are already stretched, due to Covid-19.
ICHEC is Ireland’s leading authority in high-end computing at national and international level, and manages the national infrastructure in the field, which is called Kay.
It used the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Sentinel 5-P satellite, launched in October 2017, to observe Earth’s atmosphere for temporal and spatial changes and monitor air quality.
ICHEC Earth observation computational scientist, Dr Sita Karki, said the primary objective of this mission is to perform atmospheric monitoring of various gases, and facilitate climate monitoring as well as forecasting.
Gases and pollutants have traveled or dispersed considerably as they are being monitored, Dr Sarki said.
Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, blasted those behind the fire which led to the destruction of 150 acres of habitat in Killarney National Park as “reckless and irresponsible”.
Wildfires are not a natural phenomenon in Ireland.
As well as having severe localised impact on flora and fauna, setting fires during this time of a national public health emergency is particularly reckless as it places unnecessary additional pressures on our emergency services as they valiantly tackle the current pandemic.
“I would appeal to members of the public to be conscious of the dangers posed by fire on open ground. Even planned and/or 'controlled' burning can get out of hand very quickly, so it is critically important that every member of society realises the damage that can be caused to property, our precious natural heritage and, indeed, the health and welfare of family, neighbours and the wider community, and the responding emergency services,” she said.