With temperatures up to 10°C warmer than normal, and dry soils that are ideal for wildfires, the Siberian Arctic released an unprecedented 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in June and became a predictor for an unusually warm summer around the world.
The resulting intense fires across much of the Arctic “offer a stark portrait of planetary warming trends,” the New York Times reports, citing a study released last week by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. “The last time fires in the Arctic were this intense or released such a large volume of emissions was last year, which itself set a record.”
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In Verkhoyansk, which the Times cites as a town in Siberia best known as a place of exile in the czarist era, temperatures “hit a record 100°F/38°C on June 20,” the paper recalls. “In the Siberian Arctic, scientists said, the soil is drier than ever, and snow cover reached a record low in June 2020.”
“Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area,” said Mark Parrington, a fire specialist with the forecasting centre.
“By releasing so much carbon dioxide, the fires are contributing to global warming,” the Times explains. “And scientists say the fires could also lead to more thawing of Arctic permafrost. Decomposition of the organic matter, like dead vegetation and animals, in this previously frozen ground would result in the release of more methane, another potent greenhouse gas.”
And meanwhile, “smoke from the Siberian fires seems to be spreading across the northern Pacific, reaching as far as the [U.S.] Pacific Northwest.”
The Times points to more worrying news ahead, with Brazil set to open a rather more deliberate fire season next month. “The Brazilian Amazon has lost nearly 1,300 square miles of forest since January, a 20% increase in cutting from the same period last year,” as “vast swaths” were cleared for agriculture, mining, and logging. “They are likely to be set ablaze in the season that starts in August, and those fires could spread across the Amazon, as they did last year.”
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