What climatic consequences will fires in Siberia entail?

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What climatic consequences will fires in Siberia entail?
What climatic consequences will fires in Siberia entail?

Massive forest fires have already become a common occurrence, which repeats itself every year. Scientists call their main reason the consequences of global warming. Even when a fire breaks out due to the careless handling of fire, as a result of hot dry weather, forests break out like dry fuel and the fire covers vast territories at an enormous speed. In some cases, fires occur even without human intervention as a result of dry thunderstorms. Particularly large-scale forest fires have been recorded in Siberia over the past few years. Looking at what is happening, the question involuntarily arises, what consequences can they lead to, how do they affect the climate and various natural processes? So far, no one can answer this question exactly. However, the preliminary conclusions of scientists, made on the basis of observations, are not encouraging.

Fires in Siberia over the past few years

The last few years, fires in Siberia have been exceptional in scale, especially in Yakutia. In 2020, between June and August, they emitted more carbon dioxide than any other fire since 2003.

The 2021 fire season began in late April and accelerated sharply in mid-June. Presumably, it will end no earlier than October. Already, emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of fires in Yakutia, according to the results of observations, more than doubled the amount of emissions in 2020.

Scientists believe that abnormally hot weather led to such sad results. Since late spring, northeastern Russia has seen temperatures well above historical averages. For example, an abnormal heat in mid-June broke local records. In addition, the region was “prepared” for the season of fires by a rather mild and dry spring.

Smoke engulfed local villages, painting the sky an apocalyptic reddish color

Unlike last year, when Siberian wildfires spread far north into the tundra, this year they are concentrated in taiga forests, which consist mainly of pine, spruce and larch. According to the Russian Forestry Agency, since the beginning of the fire season in Yakutia, more than six million hectares of forest land have burned down. Already, the area of ​​fires corresponds to the total area of ​​the burned area for the entire 2020.

How fires in Siberia affect the Arctic

Smoke from fires does not remain in Siberia, but is associated with air masses for hundreds and thousands of kilometers. So during the first week of August, two giant plumes passed directly over the North Pole, and then headed south to Canada. Zach Leib, a climate and atmosphere scientist at Colorado State University, says smoke from wildfires often spreads along the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

“It's unusual to see large plumes of smoke moving just above the North Pole and essentially extending across the entire Arctic Circle,” says Zach Leib.

The problem with Arctic smoke is that particles of dark smoke settle on the sea ice, causing it to absorb more solar energy. Accordingly, this potentially accelerates melting. But, according to Mark Parrington, a senior researcher with the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), much of the smoke from the recent transpolar transition appears to have remained high in the atmosphere. There, he says, it temporarily reduces the amount of sunlight hitting the surface, resulting in a short-term, localized cooling effect.

Smoke from forest fires in Yakutia refers to the North Pole

However, the effect of smoke on the sea years shows how interrelated the processes are. One event can lead to another, as a result of which the problem can grow like a snowball.

Climatic consequences of forest fires in Siberia

Even more serious climatic consequences of fires, as mentioned above, are associated with the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Data provided by CAMS show that between June 1 and August 15 this year, fires in Yakutia emitted about 800 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is close to the annual emissions of Germany, which has the fourth largest economy in the world.

This estimate takes into account only carbon dioxide emitted from burning vegetation. In reality, however, total carbon dioxide emissions can be significantly higher if fires ignite the region's carbon-rich soils.

However, it seems that this is precisely the process that is taking place. Amber Sodja, a NASA associate scientist, says many of the fires this summer are burning away layers of surface organic matter that insulates the permafrost. When this surface insulation is removed, the heat from the fires causes the permafrost to melt and dry out, creating additional fuel for the fire. As a result, the flame penetrates even deeper. Sometimes the flame goes completely into the soil. These are the so-called zombie fires that live in the ground in winter and are fueled by methane, and come to the surface in spring.

Fires can lead to accelerated melting of permafrost

In addition to burning carbon that has been stored in the soil for centuries or millennia, fires will over time deepen the layer of seasonal permafrost melting, leading to even more greenhouse gas emissions.

This damage will be amplified by background heating of the atmosphere. Climate models predict that even if global warming is limited to the Paris Agreement target of 2 degrees Celsius, the Russian Arctic could experience a warming of 5 ° C. Russia, including Arctic Siberia, is already one of the fastest heating places on Earth.

The permafrost, which is melting this year due to fires and will melt in the coming years due to global warming, will feed soil microbes that will release additional carbon dioxide, as well as methane, a greenhouse gas that poses an even greater threat. …

There is currently insufficient data to say how much carbon dioxide emissions from permafrost melting will have on the climate system, according to Merritt Turecki, director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This means that the results can be the most unpredictable. Moreover, unlike industrial emissions, this process does not depend on human activity in any way, and therefore it is impossible to control it.

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