Ravaging Wildfires in the Arctic Are so Large, They Can Be Seen from Space

More than 100 wildfires have sparked in the Arctic circle since the start of June.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Wildfire smoke swirls over Russia, seen on July 21, 2019.Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

The Arctic is being ravaged by fires so intense, they can be seen from space reveals the latest data from NASA's Earth Observatory. Since the start of June, more than 100 wildfires have been burning in the Arctic circle.


The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet making it easy for fires to spark there. In Russia alone, 11 regions are affected by the fires with smoke being blown over to other regions as well.

Ignited by lightning

The largest fires are located in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Buryatia. "As of July 22, the blazes had burned 89,076 hectares (320 square miles), 38,930 hectares (150 square miles), and 10,600 hectares (41 square miles) in these regions, respectively," states the Earth Observatory. The fires are likely ignited by lightning.

Wildfires are also burning in Greenland and parts of Alaska. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) revealed to CNN that the fires have released 100 megatons of carbon dioxide from June 1 to July 21, a devastating amount.

"The number and intensity of wildfires in the Arctic Circle is unusual and unprecedented," said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS, to CNN. "They are concerning as they are occurring in a very remote part of the world, and in an environment that many people would consider to be pristine."

Peat fires

Ravaging Wildfires in the Arctic Are so Large, They Can Be Seen from Space
Source: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

What is even more worrisome is that the fires seem to have reached peat soils. "The magnitude is unprecedented in the 16-year satellite record," Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, told USA TODAY

"The fires appear to be further north than usual, and some appear to have ignited peat soils." Peat fires burn down into the soil making them last for days or even months.

Even worse, the peat fires release greenhouse gas emissions making it a vicious cycle for global warming. "The fires are burning through long-term carbon stores (peat soil) emitting greenhouse gases, which will further exacerbate greenhouse warming, leading to more fires," said Smith.

"These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles)," Smith added. "The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitted from Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is larger than all of the CO2 released from Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 through to 2018 put together." 

Although the fires are remote for now it is possible that the smoke could travel between continents affecting air quality. And although firefighters are responding in some regions of Alaska, most of these fires can only be put out by rain.

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