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The Arctic Is Having the Worst Season for Wildfires on Record

Sustainability News National Parks
by Eben Diskin Jul 31, 2019

The Arctic, the land of ice and polar bears, is burning. Since the start of June, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has tracked over 100 “intense and long-lived” wildfires in the Arctic Circle.

Indeed, global warming has caused Arctic temperatures to rise at a much quicker rate than the global average, creating conditions conducive to wildfires. They were even so massive that they could be seen from space, with giant plumes of smoke rising from parts of Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), this past June was Earth’s warmest June on record.

Thomas Smith, environmental geographer at the London School of Economics, said that these fires are bad news for an already struggling climate. “The fires are burning through long-term carbon stores,” he said, “emitting greenhouse gases, which will further exacerbate greenhouse warming, leading to more fires.”

Luckily, much of the Arctic area affected by wildfires is sparsely populated, but wind can carry wildfire pollution thousands of miles. The Siberian fires, for example, extended 1.7 million square miles across central and northern Asia. In Russia the situation appears even worse, with 11 out of 48 Russian regions currently experiencing wildfires, and there are 2.06 million acres engulfed in Alaska.

Unfortunately, according to the WMO’s Claudia Volosciuk, the fires are only precipitating a series of climate events that make global warming even worse. “When particles of smoke land on snow and ice,” she said, “[they] cause the ice to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, and thereby accelerate the warming in the Arctic.”

And as you can imagine, extinguishing fires in the Arctic is rather difficult. The best hope right now is heavy rainfall.

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