Experts have warned that wildfires in the Arctic over the summer have put record amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Carbon emissions from this year’s wildfires – which have been dubbed “zombie fires” – burning in the Arctic Circle have already outstripped 2019’s record levels and are the highest for the region in data going back to 2003, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said.
Zombie fires, a term coined by Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS, are blazes that occur at the same place and burn outside the typical fire season.
The fires are fuelled by methane deposits and insulated by a layer of snow, and can burn throughout the cold and wet Arctic winter, according to the Eos website.
They continue to burn through peat and organic matter while underground and reignite above the ground as temperatures rise in spring.
Parrington said: “The Arctic fires burning since middle of June with high activity have already beaten 2019’s record in terms of scale and intensity as reflected in the estimated carbon dioxide emissions.
“We know from climate data provided by our parallel service at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), that warmer and drier conditions have been prevalent again this summer.
“Our monitoring is vital in understanding how the scale and intensity of these wildfire events have an impact on the atmosphere in terms of air pollution.”
Scientists from CAMS, which monitors wildfire activity across the world, have estimated that CO2 emissions from the Arctic Circle from the beginning of the year were 244 million tonnes, up by a third on the 181 million tonnes for the whole of 2019.
Most of the increase in wildfires has been in Russia’s Sakha Republic, which falls partly within the Arctic Circle, with millions of acres of land damaged, the scientists said.
Across eastern Russia as a whole, fires emitted approximately 540 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between June and August, surpassing the previous highest total emissions for the region, seen in 2003, they said.
Elsewhere in the world, a large region of the south-western US has been hit by wildfires due to heatwave conditions, with large plumes of smoke seen moving eastward across the Great Lakes towards the North Atlantic.
California has seen the second and third worst fires in the state’s history, the data shows.