In keeping with the theme established by the events of recent years, Siberia has once again caught fire. As it stands, this summer’s wildfires in Siberia have already burned through around 133,000 acres — mostly in southern Siberia, near Lake Baikal.
As would be expected, the extensive fires are greatly impacting air quality in the region — exacerbated to some degree by the high winds present in the area as of late.
Here’s a remainder of why this matters: Extensive forest fires have become more and more common in the enormous region lately as a result of a variety of different factors … all of which are tied to anthropogenic climate change. As the region continues warming, these forest fires are expected to become more and more common and extreme.
Such forest fires release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in addition to damaging local conditions and agriculture (the forest fires that resulted in Russia banning wheat exports a couple of years back, it should be remembered, were a direct factor in the “Arab Spring” kicking off…). Such changes are worth keeping an eye on.
Climate Central provides some context: “Those forests are burning at a rate unheard of in at least 10,000 years due largely to rising temperatures. They contain vast reserves of carbon stored in trees and soil and when they burn, they send that carbon into the atmosphere. That creates a dangerous cycle of more severe wildfires and ever rising temperatures.
“NASA’s satellites captured the scene on Friday from a few different vantage points. The Aqua satellite captured the extent of the thick plumes of smoke and fires dotting the region while the Suomi NPP satellite was able to analyze the air quality. Both show the stunning breadth of impacts wildfires can have. The Suomi NPP measurements in particular show that the aerosol index — a measure of air quality — hit 19, a mark that denotes very dense smoke.
“According to NASA Earth Observatory, scientists are also investigating signs that the fires were burning so intensely, they altered the local weather. There’s evidence pyrocumulus clouds formed, a phenomenon that occurs when wildfires burn so hot that they cause localized convection that eventually forms clouds.”
With regard to the reference above to rising temperatures being a causative factor in the wildfires, it should be realized here that temperatures have been up to 7° Fahrenheit higher than average in the region in question since November or so. So, the region has definitely been baking as of late — as compared to the state of things there in recent centuries.
A similar situation as that in Siberia has been occurring in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic in recent years — with rapidly rising temperatures leading directly to increasingly severe forest fire seasons. Last year’s Fort McMurray first fire in Alberta, for instance, ended up being the worst, or costliest, natural disaster in Canadian history when all was said and done. Things are only expected to get worse from here on out in the regions in question.
To make the implications of that last point extra clear, boreal forests such as those in Siberia and Canada currently store around 30% of the world’s embodied carbon — if they continue burning at ever higher rates, then they will end up being a significant contributor to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. And thus to climate change.
Image by NASA Earth Observatory
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