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

Pexels

By Marlene Cimons

Scientist Aaswath Raman long has been keen on discovering new sources of clean energy by creating novel materials that can make use of heat and light.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

The aloe vera plant is a succulent that stores water in its leaves in the form of a gel.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Attendees seen at the Inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration at Los Angeles Grand Park on Oct. 8, 2018 in Los Angeles. Chelsea Guglielmino / Getty Images

By Malinda Maynor Lowery

Increasingly, Columbus Day is giving people pause.

Read More Show Less
Westend61 / Getty Images

By Brianna Elliott, RD

Hunger is your body's natural cue that it needs more food.

Read More Show Less
Young activists and their supporters rally for action on climate change on Sept. 20 in New York City. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

More than 58 million people currently living in the U.S. — 17 percent of the population — are of Latin-American descent. By 2065 that percentage is expected to rise to nearly a quarter. Hardly a monolith, this diverse group includes people with roots in dozens of countries; they or their ancestors might have arrived here at any point between the 1500s and today. They differ culturally, linguistically and politically.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Thu Thai Thanh / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Commonly consumed vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, peppers, carrots, and cabbage, provide abundant nutrients and flavors. It's no wonder that they're among the most popular varieties worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Petrochemical facilities in the Houston ship channel. Roy Luck / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Prigi Arisandi, who founded the environmental group Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation, picks through a heap of worn plastic packaging in Mojokerto, Indonesia. Reading the labels, he calls out where the trash originated: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada. The logos range from Nestlé to Bob's Red Mill, Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts.

The trash of rich nations has become the burden of poorer countries.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Lisa Wartenberg, MFA, RD, LD

Caffeine's popularity as a natural stimulant is unparalleled.

Read More Show Less