Since the beginning of June this year, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitory Service in Europe has monitored over 100 wildfires in the Arctic. The ‘zombie fires’ have been the worst this year since reliable monitoring began in 2003.
By July, the amount of carbon released by the Arctic fires as compared to how much the greenhouse gas is emitted in an entire year from smaller nations like Cuba and Tunisia. The levels of wildfires this year in the Artic were unexpected, shared scientist Mark Parrington from Copernicus.
Parrington and other scientists at Copernicus also tracked last year’s wildfire season but did not expect this year’s wildfires to be so intense in July.
The zombie wildfires begin underneath the snow when the ice melts during the summertime. The smoldering hotspots, or the layers of peat burning slowly without flame or smoke, is ignited after the snow melts since the Arctic tundra’s peat is rich in carbon.
Dorothy Peteet from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies shared that peat on fire is ‘troubling for so many reasons.’ When fire burns layers of peat, the depth of permafrost may deepen and continue to oxidize more layers of peat underneath.
Both carbon and methane are released from peat as the Arctic wildfires burn. Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming on top of human activities like burning fossil fuels and air pollution.
The summer wildfires in the Artic ranged from Siberia to northern Canada in Alberta. One of Canada’s largest zombie fires this year was in Chuckegg Creek Fire, Alberta. The fire burned more than 1,351 square miles and was contained within 12 weeks.
Fires were also traced in the Russian Far East Federal District. In the United States, wildfires from heatwaves, like the fires in California, brought smoke across the Great Lakes.
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Typically, wildfire season in the Arctic is between May and October, with the worst zombie fires occurring in July and August. Last year, the fires broke records of how much carbon gas was released. In June 2019, nearly 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide were released, according to Copernicus.
This year’s fires were even greater. From January until August, the scientists estimated that the wildfires had released nearly 244 megatons of carbon dioxide. This resulted in even poorer air quality all across Canada, Russia, and Europe. The monitory service has also predicted similar figures next year and the following years.
‘We know that temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at a faster rate than the global average, and warmer/drier conditions will provide the right conditions for fires to grow when they have started,’ Parrington said. The company’s monitory is not only important for raising awareness on the impact of wildfires in general and greenhouse gas emissions but can help people and businesses make important decisions to reduce air pollution.
World Wildlife Fund Chief Polar Adviser Rod Downie said that global warming is breaking records as the Arctic is in meltdown and large areas burn. The organization aims to urgently raise their ambition and drastically show global leadership in finding solutions for climate change.
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Arctic, Wildfire, Climate change
World news – US – Arctic ‘Zombie’ Wildfires Release Megatons of Carbon Dioxide