By Anders Lorenzen
This summer, the Arctic has experienced unprecedented wildfires which have now lasted for more than three months, with Russia worst affected. The fires are causing huge volumes of ice to melt across the Arctic, in particular in Greenland where it is reported that a record melt is taking place causing rapid global seawater level increases. According to NASA, the fires have now reached both Alaska and Canada.
In Siberia, large areas of permafrost are on fire which is a problem as it stores huge quantities of CO2 and methane, which, once released results in increased greenhouse gas emissions. On the 31st of July, the Russian authorities stated that so far three million hectares of permafrost (30,000 km2) , an area the size of Belgium, was on fire According to Greenpeace, however, a total of 12 million hectares (120,000 km2) has burned in the region since the start of the year. The Siberian wildfires have been l hard to contain as they are happening in remote and poorly accessible areas. As of the 6th of August, Russia’s Aerial Forest Protection agency was actively fighting 161 fires, whilst only being able to monitor others as smoke makes aerial firefighting unsafe.
In recent years, scientists have become increasingly worried about the permafrost in the Russian Arctic. Methane and CO2 have been stored in it for thousands of years, but as the planet heats up they are starting to be released. Wildfires like the one in Siberia are only set to speed up the release of CO2 and methane. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Some scientists are worried that the release of large quantities of methane will cause a climate tipping point.
Greenland also has several active fires with a fire cloud covering an area larger than the EU. A total of 50 megatonnes of CO2 were released in June,79 megatonnes in July and so far 25 megatonnes have already been released in August. This is a new record.
According to the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), Greenland lost nearly 200 billion tons of ice in July. On the 31st of July, images captured from the Copernicus, satellite showed a record-breaking 56.5 per cent of Greenland’s ice sheet was showing signs of melting. Images captured on the 1st of August showed multiple melt ponds as well as evidence from a recent fire through burn scars and smoke from an active fire.
It is not unusual for wildfires to occur in the Arctic during the summer months, but for them continue burning for such a long time is unprecedented and many experts are warning that this is evidence that the planet is in the midst of a climate crisis.
World renowned sea ice scientist Prof. Peter Wadhams, documented in his 2016 book ‘A Farewell to Ice’ how permanent ice in the Arctic might soon be a thing of the past. He has caused controversy by claiming only geoengineering can save the Arctic. Perhaps if melting and wildfires in the region continue to intensify, this would become a proposition we’d be forced to consider.