Right now, much of the top of the world is smoked out. NASA satellites have observed what looks like a vortex of smoke swirling over Siberia, which has been on fire for weeks.
Multiple satellites in orbit have been monitoring huge plumes of smoke from wildfires in parts of Russia, including Siberia, as well as Canada and Alaska.
For the past few months now, scientists with Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) have been keeping an eye on over 100 fires above the Arctic Circle, all pumping particulates and other pollution into the sky.
“I think it’s fair to say July Arctic Circle #wildfires are now at unprecedented levels,” Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington said on Twitter Monday.
Atmospheric scientist Dr. Santiago Gasso says the fires burning in the Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk Krai and Sakha have “now created a smoke lid extending over 4 and half million (square km) over central northern Asia. This is staggering.”
Gasso says the layer of smoke is equivalent to that of a thin cloud “resulting in major reduction of solar radiation to the surface.”
In addition to just being plain nasty for air quality, all that smoke also creates a nasty feedback that could exacerbate climate change, which helped create the dry tinder-box conditions fueling the record northern wildfires.
“It is unusual to see fires of this scale and duration at such high latitudes in June,” Parrington said earlier this month. “But temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at a much faster rate than the global average, and warmer conditions encourage fires to grow and persist once they have been ignited.”
Earlier in the month, airline passengers captured this video of fires burning in Greenland:
Indeed, last month was the warmest June on record for the planet.
Parrington says the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere by Arctic wildfires during the first three weeks of July is equal to the annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions for Bulgaria, Hungary and Sweden.
Making matters worse is the double-whammy effect of dark particulate matter like soot falling on northern icy areas, making them absorb more sunlight and accelerating melting.
A Greenpeace Russia team is documenting wildfires in the Taiga forest, in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia. Despite statements by Russian authorities, the intensity of forest fires in Siberia is not decreasing. The 4.3 million hectare fire — an area larger than Denmark — is contributing significantly to climate change. Since the beginning of the year a total of 13.1 million hectares has burned.
Fires in the Taiga have been raging every year, but this summer’s blazes have reached unprecedented size and strength. The Siberian fires are emitting more than 166 Mt CO2 — nearly as much as 36 million cars emit a year. Fires in Siberian forests are especially dangerous for the climate as they are the source of black carbon that settles on the Arctic ice and accelerates its melting.
“These fires should have been put out at the very beginning, but were ignored due to weak policies. Now it has grown into a climate catastrophe that can not be stopped by human means,” said Greenpeace Russia wildland fire expert and volunteer firefighter Anton Beneslavskiy. “Russia should increase efforts in forest protection and provide sufficient funding for firefighting and fire prevention. The problem of wildfires should be addressed at the international level in the global climate agreements to keep global warming below 1.5°C.”
Greenpeace Russia experts warn that the situation will most likely remain catastrophic in the coming two weeks due to weather conditions. While smoke has blown away from the major Siberian cities, it still envelops settlements in remote forest areas, according to Greenpeace Russia reports from the Krasnoyarsk region.
In an update on Thursday, Russia’s aerial forest protection service said there were now 2,424,396 hectares of wildfire area where firefighting efforts have been stopped saying there were no threats to either people or infrastructure.
“The projected costs of extinguishing them exceed the projected damage that they may cause,” they said in a a statement.
A fire in Krasnoyarsk Region in eastern Russia. Maxim Yakovenko, head of Russia’s meteorological service, said this month he sees global climate change as a factor behind the wildfires blazing throughout Siberia and the country’s Far East. (Ministry of Emergency Situations of Krasnoyarsk Region/AP)
Elsewhere, firefighting efforts continue on 179,179 hectares of wildfire areas in Russia, including in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and Krasnoyarsk Territory, involving some 3,864 people, authorities say.
Nearly 3,000 people and 50 aircraft are working to extinguish wildfires across Russia said the country’s aerial forest protection service said in a statement on Thursday.
In all, 2,848 people have been mobilized to fight the fires, 27 aircraft are being used for monitoring the burning and another 21 aircraft are being used to help extinguish the blazes.
Besides planes from the forest protection services, aircraft were also leased from local airlines and Russia’s ministries of Defense and of Emergencies.
Places in Siberia are amongst the hardest hit and include the Irkutsk Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
Some of the areas in Siberia where authorities are actively working to extinguish fires:
- Krasnoyarsk Territory: 60 fires covering an area of 24,328 hectares
- Irkutsk Region: 67 fires covering an area of 83,832 hectares
- Sakha Republic (Yakutia): 20 fires covering an area of 1,431 hectares
- Republic of Buryatia: 3 fires covering an area of 282 hectares
Source: Russia’s federal forestry agency; August 1, 2019
In many regions, authorities are planning to monitor the fires, but will not deploy resources saying there is currently “no threat to human settlements and economic facilities.”
“The projected cost of extinguishing them exceeds the projected damage that they may cause,” the forestry service said in its statement.
Sources: forbes.com, rcinet.ca