‘Zombie fire’ fuels sky-high carbon emissions in the Arctic

In early May, as spring melting began in northern areas of Siberia, Mark Parrington noticed something strange on images captured by instruments aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. Plenty of red dots stood out, indicating some sort of thermal anomaly over a huge white expanse. Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, immediately noted that the hot spots were located in areas that burned in last year’s epic Arctic fire.

“Whatever they are (land clearance? Natural?) They were happening at the same time last year,” Smith wrote, posting a photo of the same location from 2019. “Zombie fire?” Perrington replied. And thus a new “catchier” name was born, commonly called “holdover or overwintering fire” by fire managers. The name is synonymous with real danger because they are causing fire, however. Once the fire is extinguished on the surface, they can continue to smolder underground, burning through peat and other organic materials. Fueled by methane and untouched by ice – they can burn all winter long. As the temperature begins to climb in the spring and the soil dries, the land above the fire can rule.

The Copernicus Sentinel data shows the production of smoke, a number of fires. The smoke has caused air pollution in the Kemerovo, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Altai regions. (2) July 2019)

European Space Agency

Monitoring the arctic circle

It was the worst year on record for Arctic wildlife, when surveillance began 17 years ago. In the first half of July, as much carbon was released as a nation, the size of Cuba or Tunisia is released in a year. The flakes of smoke were so large, they covered the equivalent of more than a third of Canada. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union, monitors emissions and activity of more than 100 wildfires occurring in the Arctic Circle in Sakha. Siberia and the Republic of Alaska for several months. In addition to the wildfires of Siberia and Alaska, another wildfire in northern Alberta, Canada was impressive in its size and intensity. The Chikag Creek Fire in northern Alberta burned more than 1,351 square miles (350,134 ha) and took three months, according to Global News Canada.

According to Live Science, “clearly it’s related,” Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington told the BBC. “We really didn’t expect to see these levels of forest yet.” “Pete’s destruction by fire is troubling for many reasons,” said Dorothy Pettet, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “As fire burns the top layers of the peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat.” Copernicus estimates that between January and August of 2020, the fire left 244 megatons of carbon. It had more carbon than Vietnam for the entire year in 2017.

Copernicus sentinel data has been modified in it [2020]  Pierre Markuse Siberian wildfire processed by wit ...

Copernicus sentinel data has been modified in it [2020]Pierre Marcuse processed by Siberian wildfires within the Arctic Circle in Russia’s Sakha Republic (Lat: 68.50194, Lng: 132.60075) – May 19, 2020 Image is about 18 kilometers wide.

Pierre Marcuse (CC BY 2.0)

Says Perrington, “We know that temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, and that the hot / dry conditions will provide the right conditions for a fire to occur when they have started. Data from our Global Fire Assimilation System show that fires in the Arctic Circle typically occur in July and August, so it has become unusual to see fires of this scale and duration in June. “” Our monitoring is important in raising awareness about the broader scale. The effects of wildfires and smoke emissions that can help organizations, businesses and individuals plan ahead against the effects of air pollution. ”