(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)
Over the past week, large tundra fires have been erupting over a section of extreme northern Canada between the Great Slave Lake and the shores of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. With a major Arctic heatwave predicted as various extreme weather conditions arise, this region will be worth very close monitoring over the next few days.
The fires are emerging in a region of the Arctic between 62 and 66 degrees north latitude, near the Arctic Circle. In the image above, we see the Great Slave Lake in the lower left hand corner, the Great Bear Lake in the upper center, and Coronation Gulf and Amundsen Bay bordering the map’s right hand side. The fires are visible, along with their tell-tale smoke plumes and underlying scorch marks, in a region between the Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake. Terrain type in the regions burned include boreal forest and tundra.
Weather conditions over the past two weeks have been both warm and dry for this Arctic region. But over the past few days, temperatures have been heating up. As temperatures rose, wildfires sparked and grew. Forecasts now call for a region of very hot Arctic weather to stretch all the way to the shores of the Beaufort Sea by Friday with temperatures likely to exceed 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) over the broad stretch of land surrounding the Mackenzie Delta.
This high Arctic heat pulse is being driven north by a powerful high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream which is setting up very extreme temperature differentials between the Beaufort Sea and North Canadian land masses. Temps over the Beaufort are now in the range of -5 degrees C in some areas (about 22 F), with temperatures over land hovering, at this time, in between 15 and 23 C (60s and 70s) and predicted to surge as high as 30 C + (86 F+). This amazing temperature differential is likely also providing fuel to a powerful 978 mb (Smokey) Arctic Cyclone now traversing from the Laptev and into the Central Arctic. It will also intensify winds and drive greater heating over Arctic land masses over the next few days.
(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)
The map indicates forecast daytime temperatures for the Northern Hemisphere land masses bordering the Arctic on Friday, August 9, 2013. Note the highly anomalous condition in which temperatures are predicted to be hotter further north, over regions near the Mackenzie Delta, than they are further south. This is an extraordinary inversion and one certainly worth putting into the context of the extreme weather conditions that are now ongoing. (Areas of red on the map indicate average temperatures in the range of 77-86 degrees (F). Maximum daily values are likely to exceed this average predicted range.)
Though not as massive or extensive as the fires raging across the Arctic Ocean in Russia, these fires are still quite large — with burn marks stretching 6 or more miles at their widest point in many cases. Another region just west of the fires shown in the image above is also experiencing a very large blaze. This complex of fires is raging along the banks of the Mackenzie River and is shown to have a fire line more than ten miles across at its widest point.
(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)
Note the extremely large scorch mark to the lower center portion of the map, with a large, energetic fire blazing in the upper right portion of the map and a smaller, though still substantial, blaze erupting to the upper left.
As noted above, fire-conducive conditions for this region are forecast to intensify well before they moderate. So this particular spate of fires may well be just starting to ramp up.
For a final note, I’d like to add the observation that this event represents a bit of rather harsh irony. These fires now rage in a region dominated by Canada’s Tar Sands Industry. Carbon is being baked and burned out of the land and soil by anomalous heat caused by human warming and not just by the immense grind and crush of fossil fuel industry. The steps of carbon extraction, in this case, have been shortened and are now out of our control.