Unprecedented Arctic wildfires
August 5, 2019 - Wildfires ravaging parts of the Arctic are threatening to accelerate the melting of ice and permafrost -- the permanently frozen ground layer -- releasing greenhouse gases stored for thousands of years.
Although wildfires are frequent in the northern hemisphere between May and October, scientists estimate the magnitude of this season’s burn is higher than any other in the 16-year-record. Fires are burning farther north, and scientists worry the forest fires are igniting peat fires.
Peat stores large amounts of carbon, which is burning and releasing record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.
According to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist with Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the fires have released approximately 100 megatons, 100 million metric tons, of CO2 since June. Since the start of June, CAMS has tracked over 100 intense and long-lived wildfires in the Arctic Circle.
As the planet warms, more and more frozen peat and permafrost has thawed, releasing large amounts of carbon. Now, fires are burning that stored carbon, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.