Arctic wildfires emit 35% more CO2 so far in 2020 than for whole of 2019
About 205 megatonnes emitted in June and July alone as Siberia hit by heatwave
31 August, 2020
The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Arctic wildfires this year is already 35% higher than the figure for the whole of 2019.
The latest data, provided by the EU’s Copernicus atmosphere monitoring service, shows that up to 24 August 245 megatonnes of CO2 had been released from wildfires this year. The figure for the whole of last year was 181 megatonnes.
The peak number of active fire observations was about 600 in late July, compared with 400 in 2019. The average equivalent number between 2003 and 2018 was about 100. Copernicus estimated that 205 megatonnes of CO2 was emitted between 1 June and 31 July alone. The wildfires coincided with a heatwave in Siberia, where temperatures soared to more than 30C (86F) in some areas.
Dr Mark Parrington, senior scientist at Copernicus, said the Arctic wildfires this summer may be setting a new precedent. Emissions increased significantly in July and early August compared with 2019. “In some respects [the data] has been similar to 2019 in terms of the dry and warm conditions in the Siberian Arctic. This year, the difference was a large cluster of fires that burned through July for many days leading to higher estimated emissions.”
Dr Thomas Smith, assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, said 2019 had already been an anomalous year in the Arctic circle. “We have seen two years of anomalously high activity, according to the satellite record that goes back to 2003,” he said.
Smith also warned that some fires were destroying ancient peat bogs containing carbon that has accumulated over thousands of years, a process similar to fossil fuel burning.
Analysis performed by Smith, covering May and June of this year, suggested that about 50% of the fires in the Arctic Circle were burning on peat soils, with the vast majority of the fire activity occurring in eastern Siberia.
Arctic wildfires have become a cause for concern in recent years, with fires becoming more widespread and persistent in 2019 and 2020.
In June, Russia’s aerial forest protection service reported that 3.4m acres of Siberian forest were burning in areas unreachable to firefighters. Last summer, the Arctic fires were so intense that they created a cloud of smoke and soot bigger than the EU landmass.
Carbon emissions from this year’s wildfires burning in the Arctic Circle have already outstripped 2019’s record.
This summer’s wildfires in the Arctic have put record amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, experts have warned.
Carbon emissions from this year’s wildfires 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, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said.
Scientists from the service, which is run by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission, monitor wildfire activity across the world.
They have estimated that carbon dioxide 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 USA 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.
Mark Parrington, senior scientist and wildfire expert at CAMS, 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 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.”