published on 25 July 2019 in ecosystems

Unprecedented wildfires burning in the Arctic

The abnormally high temperatures recorded in the Arctic over the past weeks have caused, between June and July, numerous wildfires to break out, destroying forests and peatbogs, as well as contributing to emission of enormous quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. In the last six weeks alone, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has monitored over 100 fires that have broken out in Greenland, Siberia, Alaska and Canada. Besides seriously damaging Arctic ecosystems and the fauna and flora within them, the fires are causing the emission of huge quantities of CO2. In the month of June, the fires released 50 million tons of carbon dioxide, equal to the total annual emissions of Sweden. In this brief period, an amount equivalent to the entire quantity of carbon dioxide emitted by all the wildfires that flared up from 2010 to 2018 was released into the atmosphere.

The Arctic tundra is an area rich in peatbogs, deposits of plant residues that have accumulated over the course of thousands of years. Fires in these ecosystems are particularly serious because they cause the release of large quantities of pollutants. Credits: Pierre Markuse/Flickr

The northern areas of our Planet are heating up very rapidly and this heat is parching the forests making them more vulnerable to wildfires. While such fires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, their intensity this summer has been particularly unusual. It has been at least 10 thousand years since the forests of the Arctic Circle have burnt at this speed. Even though the fires have flared up in the wild and sparsely populated Arctic areas, the wind is able to spread pollutants released by the fires to areas many kilometres away from their sources, influencing air quality all over the world.

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