The Arctic is known for cold and snowy winters. But in summer, wildfires can rage across the tundra.
“Fire is not something that we are surprised to see in the Arctic. What we’re surprised to see is how much there is in the past two years,” says Jessica McCarty, assistant professor of geography and director of the Geospatial Analysis Center at Miami University in Ohio.
“We’re seeing fires start sooner,” she says, “lasting longer, burning more intense, and appear to be burning in ecosystems that previously we thought were fire-resistant.”
As these fires get bigger, so does the amount of global warming pollution they release to the atmosphere.
That’s because there is a lot of carbon trapped in the Arctic. Much of it is in peat – thick layers of partially decayed plant material laid down over thousands of years. When the peat burns or heat from a fire melts the permafrost, the stored carbon is released to the atmosphere.
“The 2020 Arctic fire season has released more carbon dioxide than any of the years previous that we have on record,” McCarty says.
So more extreme Arctic fires are not only a sign that global warming is here. They are making the problem worse.
Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.