Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Thanks to climate change, parts of the Arctic are on fire. Scientists are concerned

Morgan Hines, USA TODAY Published 12:27 p.m. ET July 23, 2019 | Updated 3:42 p.m. ET July 23, 2019

It's the opposite of hell freezing over: Satellite images are showing areas of the Arctic catching fire.

From eastern Siberia to Greenland to Alaska, wildfires are burning. While it isn't uncommon for these areas to see wildfires, there is cause for concern now, Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, told USA TODAY.

"The magnitude is unprecedented in the 16-year satellite record," said Smith. "The fires appear to be further north than usual, and some appear to have ignited peat soils."


If what scientists were seeing from the satellite images were just regular bursts of flames, it wouldn't be as concerning.

Peat fires smolder, like a cigarette might, for long periods of time. They ignited at the end of June, Smith said, and it appears that they're still burning.

The reason it's concerning is because of what the peat fires emit: greenhouse gases.

"The fires are burning through long-term carbon stores (peat soil) emitting greenhouse gases, which will further exacerbate greenhouse warming, leading to more fires," Smith said.

Climate change is making wildfires in the Arctic far more likely to occur, Smith said.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist in the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, agreed.

"We know the Arctic has been warming at about twice the rate of the global average," Parrington told USA TODAY. "What this means is that, following ignition, the environmental conditions have been ideal for the fires to grow and continue."


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