The Arctic Is Ablaze With ‘Zombie Fires,’ And Here’s Why That’s Scary

The telltale white smoke of a forest fire shows in recent photo taken by a NOAA satellite is reason for us all to be concerned, despite the fact that the fire is many miles away from the nearest sign of humanity.

It’s called a “zombie fire,” and several have been spotted in Greenland,

“We know little about the consequences of holdover fires in the Arctic,” Dr. Merritt Turetsky, a coauthor of a recent study on these fires, and a fire and permafrost ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Phys.org, “except that they represent momentum in the climate system and can mean that severe fires in one year set the stage for more burning the next summer.”

According to KXAN, “Zombie fires occur when a fire from a previous year smolders in carbon-rich peat (organic fuel) underground during the winter, then re-ignite on the surface as the weather warms and the ground thaws the next season. This can lead to even more burning the following year.”

“Fire managers noted increasing occurrences where fires survive the cold and wet boreal winter months by smouldering, and re-emerged in the subsequent spring,” reported the Alaska Fire Science Consortium in their Spring 2020 newsletter.

Increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere are making these fires all the more common as the arctic ice begins to release more CO2 than it has the capacity to trap each year.

“We may see a cumulative effect of last year’s fire season in the Arctic which will feed into the upcoming season, and could lead to large-scale and long-term fires across the same region once again,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert at the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service, told CTV News.

An estimated 244 megatons of CO2 were released into the atmosphere from fires between January and August 2020 alone.

“It’s not just the amount of burned area that is alarming,” Turetsky said. “There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future.”

As the Arctic warms, plants previously resistant to these types of fires are now much more vulnerable in both wet conditions or dry.

June 2020 was the hottest month in the last 150 years for the Arctic, and parts of Siberia and Alaska were 10 degrees Celsius warmer that average for a majority of the year, CTV News reports.

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.

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