Since the end of the twentieth century, the word "zombie" has become popular. This is largely due to the writings of George Romer, who showed how ominous dead people who rose from the graves on television can be. The term "zombie" itself has its roots in folklore - it is believed that the concept of zombies came to Haiti through slaves who began to be exported from West Africa in the late 18th century and who, as you probably know, practiced voodoo and black magic. Researchers from the University of Oxford, in turn, note that the first mention of the word "zombie" occurs in English around 1810. It was then that the historian Robert Southey first used it in his book A History of Brazil. It is interesting in this story that the word "zombie" did not describe a walking dead man at all, but referred to one of the West African deities. Linguists, however, argue that the word "zombie" could come from the West Indian "jambi", which means "ghost" in translation. According to another version, the origins of "zombies" lead to the word "nzambi", which in the African language Bantu means "soul of a dead man." One way or another, today the term zombie has taken root in the languages of various cultures and is used in a variety of cases. Even when it comes to fires.
What are zombie fires?
After a wildfire has been extinguished on the surface, part of it can still secretly burn underground, fueled by peat and methane. Such fires can continue to burn throughout the winter, hidden under a layer of snow, and in the spring, when temperatures rise, the snow melts, the soil dries up, and forest fires can flare up and spread again.
“With low oxygen levels under the snow cover, wintering fires slowly smolder, only to flare up again. This happens in the spring when the snow melts and dry conditions set in,”said Rebecca Scholten, lead author of the new study and a graduate student at Vrieux University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Wildfires in the boreal forests of the far northern hemisphere survive the winter and resume in the spring, according to a recent scientific study published in the journal Nature. The study showed that the incidence of wintering fires has been increasing, although they are still relatively small at present.
Zombie fires are raging in the Arctic, which greatly worries scientists.
In the course of the work, scientists focused on the forests of the far northern hemisphere, where the climate heats up much faster than in the rest of the world. The team found that the so-called "zombie fires" continue to burn under the snow cover and flare up again in the spring. According to the study, between 2002 and 2018, zombie fires accounted for about 0.8% of forest area burned in boreal forests.
However, the researchers also found that the damage was greater in some years than in others, depending on whether the summer was warm. Indeed, it turned out that in one year, zombie fires affected 38% of the total ignited area. Now, researchers are warning that rapid climate change could cause serious damage from goiter fires.
"Zombie fires" in the Arctic have set a record for greenhouse emissions.
It should also be noted that zombie fires are not entirely new in the Arctic; firefighters have reported occasional outbreaks in recent decades. But in the course of their work, the researchers found that these fires are closely related to climate change - long, hot and dry summers can lead to an increase in the frequency of fires.
Aftermath of zombie fires
Sander Veraverbeke, a landscape ecologist at the Vrieux University of Amsterdam and one of the study's authors, discussed the causes of these fires. “We know that fires can start during the fire season due to lightning and people. Now we may have another reason for the burnt area. If this happens next to the scar from the fire the year before last, at the beginning of the season, and there is no lightning, and this is not a person, then this is a winter zombie fire,”the researcher quotes National Geographic.
Scientists also note that such fires jeopardize boreal peat, which protects the permafrost below. It contains large amounts of sequestered carbon. Thus, if zombie fires cover a large area, the region could release harmful amounts of greenhouse gases.
Fighting fire is a very dangerous and risky profession.
In general, in the eyes of the general public, fires mostly look like burning trees, but they are not always like that. In the boreal forests of the far north, about 90% of the carbon that is released comes from the soil.
At the same time, the results of another equally interesting study also showed that climate change could lead to an increase in the number of lightning strikes in the Northern Hemisphere. This, in turn, will cause more fires.