Wildfires ravaging parts of the Arctic

Friday 9 Aug 2019

Wildfires are ravaging parts of the Arctic, with areas of Siberia, Alaska, Greenland and Canada engulfed in flames and smoke.

Satellite images show how the plumes of smoke from the fires, many caused by dry storms in hot weather, can be seen from space. While wildfires are common at this time of year, record-breaking summer temperatures and strong winds have made this year's fires particularly bad.

They are now at "unprecedented levels", says Mark Parrington, a wildfires expert at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams). Eastern Russia and Alaska, both within and outside the Arctic Circle, have been particularly badly affected.

Russia's Federal Forestry Agency says more than 2.7m hectares (of remote forest are currently burning across six Siberian and eastern regions. However, Greenpeace Russia says as many as 3.3m hectares are burning - an area bigger than Belgium.

The smoke from the Siberian fires has even spread to Alaska and parts of the west coast of Canada. The majority of the blazes have been caused by lightning strikes, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Although wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, the location and intensity of these fires as well as the length of time they have been burning, has been particularly unusual, according to Cams.

"It is unusual to see fires of this scale and duration at such high latitudes in June," said Mr Parrington. "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."

Extremely dry ground and hotter than average temperatures, combined with heat lightning and strong winds, have caused the fires to spread aggressively. The burning has been sustained by the forest ground, which consists of exposed, thawed, dried peat - a substance with high carbon content.

Russian prosecutors said on Tuesday that some of the vast Siberian wildfires that environmentalists have dubbed a climate emergency were started on purpose by arsonists trying to conceal illegal logging activity. Further details can be read here

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