Last updated on February 1, 2021
I keep vigil.
Last summer, record-breaking wildfires in Siberia, “in and around the Arctic circle,” continue to smolder and burn; the fuel feeding the fires is peat, decomposing organic matter that has been stored in the earth for millenniums.
According to NASA estimates, at least half of wildfires burned in Siberia in the past couple of summers is peat.
Parrington noted that fires in Arctic Russia released more carbon dioxide (CO2) in June and July 2020 alone than in any complete fire season since 2003 (when data collection began). That estimate is based on data compiled by CAMS, which incorporates data from NASA’s MODIS active fire products.
“The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons,” said Dorothy Peteet of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat.” Peteet and colleagues recently reported that the amount of carbon stored in northern peatlands is double the previous estimates.
Fires in these regions are not just releasing recent surface peat carbon, but stores that have taken 15,000 years to the accumulate, said Peteet. They also release methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“If fire seasons continue to increase in severity, and possibly in seasonal extent, more peatlands will burn,” said Peteet. “This source of more carbon dioxide and methane to our atmosphere increases the greenhouse gas problem for us, making the planet even warmer.”
Siberian peat fires have continued to burn after a year of record-setting wildfires in and around the Arctic Circle despite temperatures below minus 50 degrees Celsius, The Siberian Times reported Wednesday.
Footage showing smoke rising from the snow in January and November offers physical evidence of the “zombie fire” phenomenon, which describes summertime blazes that continue smoldering through the winter, eventually igniting new fires. European scientists have voiced concerns that “zombie” fires could be causing earlier-than-normal wildfires.
Russia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Besides peat, Russia has six percent of the world’s oil, twenty percent of the globe’s gas, and fifteen percent coal.
Like a seam of coal, these fires can’t be stopped until all the fuel has burned. Or there is a massive effort to dig it out of the tundra, which is never going to happen.
What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.
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