Quantcast

'Unprecedented' Wildfires in Arctic Have Scientists Concerned

Climate
Satellite images show wildfires burning through the Central Siberian Plateau. Copernicus / Sentinel Hub / Pierre Markuse

So many wildfires are burning in the Arctic, they're visible from space, new images from NASA's Earth Observatory show. The satellite images reveal huge plumes of smoke wafting across uninhabited lands in Siberia, Greenland and Alaska, as CNN reported.


Summer fires are common in the Arctic, but not at this scale.

"I think it's fair to say July Arctic Circle #wildfires are now at unprecedented levels," said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Europe's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, on Twitter earlier this week.

Copernicus' scientists have been tracking more than 100 wildfires raging above the Arctic Circle since the start of June, which was the hottest June on record. July is on pace to break records too as Europe bakes under another heat wave this week.

"The magnitude is unprecedented in the 16-year satellite record," said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, to USA Today. "The fires appear to be further north than usual, and some appear to have ignited peat soils."

Peat fires burn deeper in the ground and can last for weeks or even months instead of a few hours or days like most forest fires, according to the UPI.

The researchers at Copernicus track how much greenhouse gas the wildfires emit into the atmosphere as well. So far, the Arctic's fires have released approximately 100 megatons, 100 million metric tons, of CO2 between June 1 and July 21, which Parrington said on Twitter "is getting close to 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium" for the entire year, as USA Today reported.

Smith added another comparison to the amount of carbon released in the past two months.

"These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles)," he told USA Today. "The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitted from Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is larger than all of the CO2 released from Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 through to 2018 put together."

That number is likely to jump as the fires burn through the peat, which acts as a carbon reservoir.

"The fires are burning through long-term carbon stores (peat soil) emitting greenhouse gases, which will further exacerbate greenhouse warming, leading to more fires," said Smith.

Parrington said that the Arctic is seeing temperatures rise twice as fast as the global average.

"What this means is that, following ignition, the environmental conditions have been ideal for the fires to grow and continue," he told USA Today.

The fires were likely ignited by lightning strikes and are now enormous. The largest fires are located in Siberia, in the regions of Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Buryatia, according to the Earth Observatory, as Live Science reported. They have conflagrations have burned 320 square miles, 150 square miles, and 41 square miles, respectively.


Atmospheric scientist Santiago Gasso said on Twitter the Siberian fires have "now created a smoke lid extending over 4 and half million (square km) over central northern Asia. This is staggering."

Krasnoyarsk, the Russian city near the second largest fire, is blanketed in haze, according to the Earth Observatory. Siberia's largest city, Novosibirsk, doesn't have any fires as now, but smoke carried there by the winds caused the city's air quality to drop, as Live Science reported. Right now, the city's Air Quality Index is hazardous.

Since the fires in the Siberian arctic are raging in uninhabited areas, firefighters are not able to access them. Only rain will put them out.

Firefighters are working to put out the fires in Alaska since they are farther south, according to USA Today.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting regular cholesterol tests shortly after you turn 20. Ca-ssis / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Many people don't begin worrying about their cholesterol levels until later in life, but that may be increasing their odds of heart problems in the long term.

Read More Show Less
A child receives a measles vaccine. DFID - UK Department for International Development / CC BY 2.0

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed more than 140,000, according to new estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of the people who died were children under five years old.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Ocean pollution concept with plastic and garbage pictured in Sri Lanka. Nestle is among the top corporate plastic polluters, according to a report called BRANDED Volume II: Identifying the World's Top Corporate Plastic Polluters. Anton Petrus / Moment / Getty Images

Nestlé cannot claim that its Ice Mountain bottled water brand is an essential public service, according to Michigan's second highest court, which delivered a legal blow to the food and beverage giant in a unanimous decision.

Read More Show Less

A number of supermarkets across the country have voluntarily issued a recall on sushi, salads and spring rolls distributed by Fuji Food Products due to a possible listeria contamination, as CBS News reported.

Read More Show Less
Birds eye view of beach in Green Bowl Beach, Indonesia pictured above, a country who's capital city is faced with the daunting task of moving its capital city of Jakarta because of sea level rise. Tadyanehondo / Unsplash

If you read a lot of news about the climate crisis, you probably have encountered lots of numbers: We can save hundreds of millions of people from poverty by 2050 by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but policies currently in place put us on track for a more than three degree increase; sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 if emissions aren't reduced.

Read More Show Less