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Record Breaking Wildfires Rage Through Siberia

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The Yakutia region in the Republic of Sakha in north-eastern Russia is one of the places covered in smoke due to the Siberian wildfires. As of early spring, wildfires started raging through the Taiga forest in Siberia. The Yakutia region was one of the hardest-hit areas, with about 250 fires burning across 2,210 miles of land on 5th July, 2021.

A record-breaking 40 million acres have burned as of August 16, and the wildfire season is far from over. The smoke clouds have become intense enough to block out sunlight in many areas. Smoke from the fires has even reached as far as the North Pole.

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“Fires in Siberia, like in many other places across the globe, are increasing in size and intensity.” Federico Fierli, an atmospheric composition expert at the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), said in a statement. “Although wildfires are regularly seen in Siberia at this time of year, it is becoming clear that their increasing scale is now the norm, rather than the exception — the trend is deeply concerning.”

Siberian Wildfires
Europe’s Sentinel 3 satellite captured this image of wildfire smoke above the Sea of Okhotsk on August 12, 2021. (Image credit: EUMETSAT)


According to estimates by the European Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the wildfires have produced 800 megatons of carbon dioxide. The smoke from the region has gone up to the Arctic circle, as far as the North Pole. This can worsen the melting of ice sheets. The deposition of dark-coloured aerosol particles on the white sea ice can change them from reflectors of solar radiation to absorbers of the same. This can accelerate the melting of ice sheets.

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Russia has seen rising temperatures over the past few years, which has led to the melting of permafrost. This fueled numerous fires. There are large reserves of oil and gas in the Yenisey-Khatanga Basin in Northern Siberia. This area is dangerously close to the raging wildfires. Methane molecules are trapped under the permafrost in the Arctic region. The melting of ice sheets is leading to a release of methane in the environment.

The wildfires are also destroying peatland, an important natural carbon sink, which can not recover its ability to store carbon after the fire reduces easily.

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Siberian Wildfires
A thick blanket of smoke from forest fires ascends over Russia on August 6, 2021. The image was taken with NASA’s MODIS imager aboard the Aqua satellite. To get this image, the satellite made four passes over the region. (MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC )

For years, fires have been normal in this region at this time of the season. The rising heat has been one of the major reasons for more wildfires every year. Some of these fires are caused naturally by lightning strikes. Human activities like campfires and smoking cause more than 70% of these fires. Other reasons for the increased fires range from illegal and legal logging to monitoring difficulties. Forest authorities try to control these fires, but this is often poorly managed and the fires burn out of control.

siberian fires
Representative image

While wildfires are common in the region, this season has broken all previous records. This has become a major concern as it forebodes a larger climate crisis in Siberia. Russia is going to face extreme weather events like heatwaves, wildfires and floods according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Russia is warming 2.5 per cent faster than the rest of the planet, and the threat of permafrost melting in large quantities can lead to a crisis for the entire planet. This becomes even more alarming as 65 per cent of Russia is covered in permafrost which encloses large amounts of carbon and methane.

On a comparatively positive note, the latest images from Europe’s satellites indicate that some fires might be easing off.

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