Wildfires Are Burning 5 Million Acres in Siberia and Eastern Russia
As of April 27, ten times the amount of land was on fire in the Krasnoyarsk region compared to the same time last year, The Siberian Times reported. In Transbaikal, meanwhile, three times as much land was burning, and in the Amur region, there were 1.5 times as many fires.
"A critical situation with fires has developed in Siberia and the Far East," Emergencies Minister Evgeny Zinichev said in a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin reported by The Siberian Times.
Wildfires ‘critical’ in Siberia and Russian Far East, up to ten times worse than last year. People are flouting cor… https://t.co/OeLh97anyO— The Siberian Times (@The Siberian Times)1588367484.0
Experts and agencies outside Russia have also reported on the extent of the fires. London School of Economics geographer Thomas Smith told Earther that around five million acres of Russian forest and grassland were on fire, and the largest fire was one million acres total, around the size of Glacier National Park.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also captured the fires from space April 27.
NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)
"On April 23, 2020, strong winds helped to push fires set by locals to dry grass out of control," NASA wrote. "The regions of Kemerovo and Novosibirsk among others have been the hardest hit to date. Nine Siberian regions have been affected by these wildfires. Clouds of smoke have swept across the Siberian landscape."
In Novosibirsk, around 50 homes were burned and in Kemerovo, 27, The Siberian Times reported.
Human activity provides the immediate spark for the fires. Farmers burn dry grass even though the practice was banned in 2015, and, this year, the coronavirus lockdown has made the situation worse.
"People self-isolated outdoors and forgot about fire safety rules," Russian forestry chief Sergei Anoprienko told The Siberian Times. "In some regions, the temperature is already around 30C, and people just can't keep themselves in their apartments. People rushed outdoors, and as a result we have a surge of thermal points."
But human activity is also behind the conditions that make the fires more likely. Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet, and last winter was so warm that Moscow had to truck in artificial snow for a New Year's display, The Guardian reported. Wildfires in Siberia in summer 2019 got so bad that the government was forced to declare a state of emergency. The fires came as June 2019 temperatures in Siberia were almost ten degrees Celsius warmer than average. 2020 is now shaping up to be a difficult fire year as well.
"A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements," Zinichev told The Siberian Times. He also said unusually hot weather was combining with strong winds to fan the flames.
2020 could be a bad year for wildfires across the globe, Earther pointed out. The Amazon's fire season could be worse than last year's and California only got half of its normal precipitation this winter.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.