Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

'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

Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less
Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved two Lysol products as the first to effectively kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, based on laboratory testing. Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveils the Green New Deal resolution in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Judith Lewis Mernit

For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.

Read More Show Less
About 30,000 claims contending that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are currently unsettled. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. Mario Micklisch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Charli Shield

When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.

Read More Show Less