Why the Arctic is Smouldering

Why the Arctic is Smouldering

SOURCE: BBC DATE: August 27, 2019 SNIP: The Arctic is transforming before our eyes: the ice caps are melting, the tree-line is shifting northwards, starving polar bears wander into cities. The region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, largely due to changes in albedo – the loss of sunlight-reflecting ice and snow, replaced by sunlight-absorbing ocean and soil. This is driving a dangerous positive feedback cycle where heating spirals into more heating. And, now, the Arctic isn’t only losing its ice. It is being set ablaze. Gargantuan forest fires in Siberia, which burned for more than three months, created a cloud of soot and ash as large as the countries that make up the entire European Union. More than four million hectares of Siberian taiga forest went up in flames, the Russian military were deployed, people across the region were choked by the smoke, and the cloud spread to Alaska and beyond. Fires have also raged in the boreal forests of Greenland, Alaska and Canada. Though images of blazing infernos in the Arctic Circle might be shocking to many, they come as little surprise to Philip Higuera, a fire ecologist at the University of Montana, in the US, who has been studying blazes in the Arctic for more than 20 years. “I’m not surprised – these are all the things we have been predicting for decades,” he says. A key tipping point, he says, is an average July temperature of 13.4C over a 30-year period. Much of the Alaskan tundra has been perilously close to this threshold between 1971 and...
Huge wildfires in the Arctic and far North send a planetary warning

Huge wildfires in the Arctic and far North send a planetary warning

SOURCE: PBS DATE: August 18, 2019 SNIP: The planet’s far North is burning. This summer, over 600 wildfires have consumed more than 2.4 million acres of forest across Alaska. Fires are also raging in northern Canada. In Siberia, choking smoke from 13 million acres – an area nearly the size of West Virginia – is blanketing towns and cities. Fires in these places are normal. But, as studies here at the University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Center show, they are also abnormal. My colleagues and I are examining the complex relationships between warming climate, increasing fire and shifting patterns of vegetation. Using locally focused climate data and models from the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, the research group I help coordinate, we are finding evidence that is deeply worrying – not just for those of us who live within the fires’ pall of smoke, but for the world. Recent fires are too frequent, intense and severe. They are reducing older-growth forest in favor of young vegetation, and pouring more carbon into the atmosphere at a time when carbon dioxide concentrations are setting new records. The overall increase in burning can be hard to detect and measure because of enormous natural variability. This summer’s fires in Alaska were driven by an intense early-season heat wave. The relationship between hot dry weather and fire is clear. Climate change is causing an equally clear trend toward earlier springs and longer, hotter...
Russia’s army called in as Siberia wildfires engulf area nearly as big as Belgium

Russia’s army called in as Siberia wildfires engulf area nearly as big as Belgium

SOURCE: EuroNews DATE: August 1, 2019 SNIP: President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian army to take part in fire-fighting efforts in Siberia as environmentalists describe the blazes raging across the region as an ecological catastrophe. The government claims the fires pose no danger to communities, but people are starting to suffer from the effects of smoke. A series of enormous wildfires have spread across Russia’s eastern region of Siberia, prompting states of emergency to be declared and sparking outrage from locals who say authorities aren’t responding enough. The fires, which have been burning for several weeks, have spread across almost 3 million hectares of land, the Federal Forestry Agency has said. That’s an area almost the size of Belgium. States of emergencies have been declared across five regions in response to the fires, which have burned more than a million hectares each in the worst-affected areas of the Sakha Republic and...
Charred forests not growing back as expected in Pacific Northwest

Charred forests not growing back as expected in Pacific Northwest

SOURCE: CBC DATE: July 28, 2019 SNIP: Certain tree species are having a tough time growing back in areas that have been affected by wildfires due to warming temperatures — a discovery that could have major implications for both the forestry sector and long-term climate change targets. A 2017 study of nearly 1,500 sites charred by 52 wildfires in the U.S. Rocky Mountains found that lower elevation trees had a tough time naturally regenerating in areas that burned between 2000 and 2015 compared with sites affected between 1985 and 1999, largely due to drier weather conditions. More recently, a 2019 study found that both Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine seedlings in the Idaho’s Rocky Mountains — just south of B.C. — were also struggling in low-lying burned areas due to warmer temperatures, leading to lower tree densities. Many similar forests facing the same challenges in B.C.’s Southern Interior, while repeat wildfires in the province are likely also to inhibit regrowth in many areas. As a result, some ecosystems will no longer be able to support tree species. Instead they may convert to...
If you’re worried about the weather in Europe, spare a thought for the Arctic Circle this year

If you’re worried about the weather in Europe, spare a thought for the Arctic Circle this year

SOURCE: EuroNews DATE: July 26, 2019 SNIP: While most of Europe is focussing on this week’s record-breaking heatwave, others are making worried glances at what is happening in the Arctic Circle. More than 100 “intense and long-lived wildfires” have been pumping carbon dioxide into the sky over the last eight weeks, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). The total carbon dioxide emissions of the fires exceed the total yearly emissions of countries like Bulgaria, Hungary or Sweden, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the monitoring service. The emissions also exceeded the levels than in any previous year over the past 17 years. Atmospheric scientist Dr Santiago Gasso wrote that fires in Siberia had created “a smoke lid” over 4.5 million square kilometres. “That is staggering,” he wrote. Although there has been an increase of wildfires in the region over the past three or four years, this year has been exceptional. “It is unusual to see fires of this scale and duration at such high latitudes in June,” said CAMS wildfire expert Mark Parrington last 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.” Parrington said while CO2 is one of many pollutants in fires it is particularly striking because CO2 emissions can be compared to fossil fuel emissions from...