NEWS

'Unprecedented' Arctic fires

'Unprecedented' Arctic fires

Large flames in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska are producing plumes of smoke that can be seen from space

The Arctic is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, with huge fires in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska producing plumes of smoke that can be seen from space.

The Arctic region has recorded its hottest June in history. Since the beginning of that month, more than 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic Circle. In Russia, 11 out of 49 regions are experiencing forest fires.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations' climate monitoring service, called the Arctic fires "unprecedented."

The largest flames, believed to have been caused by lightning, are found in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Buryatia. Winds carrying smoke have caused air quality to drop in Novosibirsk, Siberia's largest city.

In Greenland, the multi-day Sisimiut fire, first detected on July 10, occurred during an unusually hot and dry stretch in which melting in the vast Greenland ice sheet began a month earlier than usual.

In Alaska, up to 400 fires have been reported. Climatologist Rick Thomas estimated the total area burned in the state this season as of Wednesday morning at 2.06m acres.

Mark Parrington, Principal Scientist with the Climate Change Service and Atmosphere Monitoring Service for Europe's Copernicus Earth Observation Program, described the spread of the smoke as "impressive" and posted an image of a ring of fire and smoke in much of the region.

Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics, told USA Today that no fires of such magnitude have been seen in the 16-year satellite record.

Fires are not simply the result of surface ignition of dry vegetation: in some cases, the underlying peat caught fire. Such fires can last for days or months and produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

"These are some of the largest fires on the planet, and some appear to be larger than 100,000 hectares," Smith said.

"The amount of [carbon dioxide] emitted by the Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is greater than all the CO2 released by the Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 to 2018 combined."

In June alone, the WMO said, the Arctic fires emitted 50 megatons of CO2, equivalent to Sweden's total annual emissions.

Video: Arctic wildfires on the rise in Canada (October 2020).