A Dangerous Dance of Frost and Flame: More Than 100 Wildfires Now Raging Along Siberian Melt-Freeze Line

Anomalous, global-warming-enhanced, fires continued to erupt across Eastern Russia this week, chasing a rapidly receding freeze line north and into zones still frozen, but starting to shake off ice cover far too soon for comfort.

According to reports from Radio Free Europe, more than 5,000 pieces of heavy equipment and many more firefighters are now battling blazes throughout Siberia this week. As of April 20th, more than 100 blazes were reported in numerous regions including: the Orenburg area around Lake Baikal, the Amur region, the Birobidzhan Autonomous Oblast, the Primorsky Krai, and the Far Eastern region of Russia.

Multiple Wildfires Raging in the Amur Region of Russia

(Multiple wildfires raging in the Amur region of Russia on April 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The fires come as temperatures ranging from 5-18 C above average continued throughout a region that has experienced hotter than normal temperatures all winter and on into spring of 2014.

For example, the average April high temperature for the region of Lake Baikal is typically a frigid 28 F, while this week is expected to see highs in the lower to middle 40s. Further east, the temperature extremes are more radical. In Amur Blagoveshchensk, the average low is about 27 degrees F for this time of year, the average high, about 50. But today the low was 52 and the high is forecast to be 78 — 25 and 28 degrees above average respectively.

All across Eastern Russia, the story is the same: above average warmth, early thaw, summer-like temperatures in spring time. It has been this way day after day, month after month. Since 2010, the story has mostly been the same: early thaw, record or near record heat, amazing fire hazard. Even more concerning, the situation is steadily growing worse.

How Global Warming is Turning the Siberian Tundra into a Firetrap

Winters during cold regions are typically comparatively dry events. Though snows may pile up, the water content of the snows amount to much less moisture than it would seem. During spring, a gradual thaw ensures this moisture keeps the thin, top layer of soil above the permafrost (called the active layer) from drying out too rapidly. Typically only inches to a few feet in depth, this layer is far more susceptible to drying than a deeper layer with access to greater moisture sources at depth. But only frozen or melting permafrost currently rest below the active layer, creating a moisture barrier or worse — adding a potential fuel source for wildfires.

Eastern Russia in a Hot Zone

(Eastern Russia in a hot zone. Hot atmospheric ridge and coincident extreme temperature anomalies stretching from Southeast Asia, up through China and Eastern Russia and on up through the polar region. Information Source: NOAA Global Forecast Systems Model. Image source: University of Maine.)

In years of warmer than usual temperatures, as has happened more and more often under the current regime of human-caused warming, the thaw occurs rapidly and the active layer quickly dries out. This loss of moisture amplifies into a kind of tundra drought that can block atmospheric moisture flows and prevent rainfall, compounding the drying problem until the more energetic storms of summer arrive.

In addition, expanding zones of thawing permafrost provide two added fuel sources for wildfires. Tundra melt in high water content areas forms into wet thermokarsts, mires or melt ponds that vent methane gas in high enough concentration to burn. Tundra melt that rapidly dries after thaw forms into a peat-like basement layer that can burn and smolder for long periods once ignited.

On average, temperatures have been rising by about .4 C per decade throughout Siberia. So almost every spring now falls into what would typically be called a hot year. In addition, amplification of Jet Stream wave patterns deliver proportionately more heat to regions in the up-slope of these high amplitude atmospheric pulses, forming hot, high pressure ridges. And this year, the heat ridge has consistently formed over China, Mongolia and Eastern Siberia — the region of the current large fire outbreaks.

Russian wildfire burning on the shores of still frozen Lake Baikal April 23 2014

(Siberian wildfires burning on the shores of still-frozen Lake Baikal in southern Siberia on April 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

As a result, what we are seeing is an extraordinary outbreak of intense wildfires directly adjacent to still melting snow and frozen lakes. A surreal event that reminds one of the ever-at-war frost and fire giants of ancient Viking legend. But these giants, the fire giants at least, are a direct result of an ongoing and ever increasing human-caused heating of our world.


Radio Free Europe

University of Maine

NOAA Global Forecast Systems Model


Melting Permafrost Switches to Nasty, High-Gear Methane Release

Blagoveshchensk Weather

Lake Baikal Weather

Earth Under Fire

Leave a comment


  1. Genie

     /  April 23, 2014

    Thank you, I appreciate you keeping us informed.

  2. Reblogged this on abraveheart1.

  3. Mark in New England

     /  April 23, 2014

    Look at that hot spot over Greenland! Melt away…

    • Not in above freezing temps yet, except at coast.

      • Mark in New England

         /  April 23, 2014

        Yes, it may be relatively warm, but if we were to ‘beam down’ there, it would still feel danm cold. When does the southern – central Greenland ice sheet ‘typically’ get above freezing? – or should I say over the last few years…

        • +10-20 C is a lot hotter than normal. That giant block of ice is at -5 C (24F) in the central tip now. So it’s damn cold to us but not what it should be at this time of year.

          Edge zones of glaciers are getting some rain and mixed precipitation. What I’m most concerned about is large amounts of rainfall during a warm spell. Not something we’d see too much of in April.

          But the pattern, a pattern where you have hot air outburst from Europe across the North Atlantic and over Greenland, is one that would be terrible if it happened in say July or early August.

  4. uknowispeaksense

     /  April 23, 2014

    Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense.

  5. jyyh

     /  April 24, 2014

    GIS clears the skies by being much colder than the air mass going over it and doing that gets warmer for the direct sunlight. expecting to see much of this during the rest of my years,

  6. Drought may take toll on Congo rainforest, NASA satellites show
    A new analysis of NASA satellite data shows Africa’s Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, has undergone a large-scale decline in greenness over the past decade.

    The study, led by Liming Zhou of University at Albany, State University of New York, shows between 2000 and 2012 the decline affected an increasing amount of forest area and intensified. The research, published Wednesday in Nature, is one of the most comprehensive observational studies to explore the effects of long-term drought on the Congo rainforest using several independent satellite sensors.

    • So we have most major tropical forests in decline. Deforestation + climate change is a potent combo.

      • And the extra CO2 didn’t “green” them up either.

        • As to that statement, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And I see some of the deniers are now trying to say the Earth is all just fine and dandy. Here’s to hoping they don’t own oceanfront property or live in Miami, New Orleans, the US Southwest, Bangladesh or a growing list of other increasingly marginal places.

      • Study finds accelerated soil carbon loss, increasing the rate of climate change

        Research published in Science today found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.

        Read more at:

  7. Chilean forest fires ravage largest area on record
    Forest fires in Chile have ravaged an area the size of Manhattan, Buenos Aires, Paris and Madrid combined since October.
    In the 2013-14 season, Chile has registered 5,885 forest fires, 7% more than in the previous season and 14% above a five-year average, according to figures from forestry service Conaf.
    Forest fires have destroyed 101,775ha, the largest area since records began in 1963.

  8. Odds of storm waters overflowing Manhattan seawall up 20-fold

    The newly recognized storm-tide increase means that New York is at risk of more frequent and extensive flooding than was expected due to sea-level rise alone, said Stefan Talke, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University in Portland, Ore. He is lead author of the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research also confirms that the New York harbor storm tide produced by Hurricane Sandy was the largest since at least 1821.

    Tide gauge data analyzed in the study show that a major, “10-year” storm hitting New York City today causes bigger storm tides and potentially more damage than the identical storm would have in the mid-1800s. Specifically, Talke explained, there’s a 10 percent chance today that, in any given year, a storm tide in New York harbor will reach a maximum height of nearly two meters (about six and a half feet), the so-called “10-year storm.” In the mid-19th century, however, that maximum height was about 1.7 meters (about 5.6 feet), or nearly a foot lower than it is today, according to tide gauge data going back to 1844, he noted.

    “What we are finding is that the 10-year storm tide of your great-, great-grandparents is not the same as the 10-year storm tide of today,” Talke said.

  9. More than a month ahead of normal schedule, we have total river break ups here at 65 N Alaska. The fires here are large as usual but we just keep between the flames holding our breath. Studied deeply as part of the normal Arctic cycling which opens lands to sun and declining permafrost, 30 years in the Arctic has proven this out as new forest growth follows, permitting permafrost return. The local gov has neural permafrost as the sea ice opening are perceived as good opportunity for deep digging of fossilized clathrates as an economic boost for the ever growing population who come north for the same motivation the mammoths had. Hope it doesn’t become an international pattern to decompress the cryosphere. Gulf Stream shutdown will quickly solve planetary temperature climb. Glad for pre 1960 births, we’ll miss the Holocene shut down. World bank leader declared dismal prospects of wars for food and water begin when crops fail without rain ( which ends when O2 is replace hydrogen sulfide.) Keep up the good work.

  10. Huge Antarctic Iceberg Drifts Out to Sea (Time-Lapse Video)

  11. Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013

    We combine measurements of ice velocity from Landsat feature tracking and satellite radar interferometry, and ice thickness from existing compilations to document 41 years of mass flux from the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) of West Antarctica. The total ice discharge has increased by 77% since 1973. Half of the increase occurred between 2003 and 2009. Grounding-line ice speeds of Pine Island Glacier stabilized between 2009 and 2013, following a decade of rapid acceleration, but that acceleration reached far inland and occurred at a rate faster than predicted by advective processes. Flow speeds across Thwaites Glacier increased rapidly after 2006, following a decade of near-stability, leading to a 33% increase in flux between 2006 and 2013. Haynes, Smith, Pope, and Kohler Glaciers all accelerated during the entire study period. The sustained increase in ice discharge is a possible indicator of the development of a marine ice sheet instability in this part of Antarctica.

  12. Australia’s relentless war on science

    Scientists speak out against Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s slashed budgets and “anti-research agenda”

    SYDNEY — Scientists here in Australia say they’ve discovered their foe: Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

    Since he came to power in September, some of Australia’s finest researchers point out that their budgets have been slashed. They say their expertise is being ignored in favor of the views of skeptics with a dubious commitment to the facts.

    Now the science community is speaking out over fears that the government’s first annual budget could see a raft of further cuts at world-class research facilities, leading Australia to lose its reputation for cutting edge science and medical research.

    A leading researcher who asked not to be named out of fear for his own funding tells GlobalPost that budget reductions are leaving scientists feeling as though science “is being systematically removed at all levels.” He pointed to past and future cuts at universities, the Australian Research Council and even the country’s premier science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

    The Sydney Morning Herald recently revealed that the CSIRO is bracing for a budget cut of as much as 20 percent. Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty responded by saying such cuts would be “a sure way of accelerating our transition to a Third-World economy.”

    Already, the government has announced the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for overseeing funding to dozens of science-based programs, will have its funding cut by 100 million Australian dollars ($93 million) over four years, resulting in the loss of a quarter of its staff.

    • What is now a worldwide conservative war on science continues…

      My opinion is it won’t stop until fossil fuel abolitionists are successful:

      • Had not seen that Chris Hayes article, one of the few bright lights in big media today.


      • As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” What the climate justice movement is demanding is the ultimate abolition of fossil fuels. And our fates all depend on whether they succeed.

      • Burgundy

         /  April 24, 2014

        Looking at the following graph of energy consumption, I really cannot see any way this can end well.

        We’re dead if we do (eliminate fossil fuels) and we’re dead if we don’t. We’re in a predicament, meaning there are no solutions, just outcomes.

        • Gail believes that the modern world cannot exist without fossil fuels, that renewables are a nonviable replacement. I couldn’t disagree more. Independent analysis of EROEI figures for unconventional fossil fuels vs renewables proves her incorrect based on her own analysis.

          In short, I find every proof that peak oil/fossil fuel is survivable, continuing to burn fossil fuels is not.

          At this point, fossil fuels are little more than a resource curse.

      • Burgundy

         /  April 24, 2014

        It wasn’t Gail’s beliefs I was looking at, it was the graph of energy consumption. Even per capita consumption is rising. Its much worse than than I thought.

        • Is the question can? Or is the question will?

          The seven trillion invested in global oil supply alone over the past seven years is enough to add 2.5 terawatts in capacity factor (not net capacity) renewables alone. This accounts for half of global oil consumption and about 25% fossil fuel consumption total. A crash transition could produce far more capital under a coordinated effort if need be. Nations could limit consumption growth to efficiency gain if need be. In a more dire case, energy rationing could cut usage.

          Can or will?

        • Burgundy —

          Perhaps I’ve been somewhat unfair. But it’s worth noting that Gail’s chart only goes to 2010 and doesn’t include the renewable portion which, for the US alone, represents about 9% of all energy consumption.

          In addition, it’s also worth noting that growth in energy consumption hinges, in part, on investment by energy providers. History shows that if energy is provided to an economy, the economy takes it.

          In general, if we are to look to solutions and not to various civilization crash potentials, we would work to replace all new capacity with renewables while drawing down the very large fossil fuel capacity, stranding so called ‘assets’ in ground or reserving them for use only as raw materials for various manufacturing processes.

          And yes, growth in fossil fuel consumption is a double whammy — the resource is both damaging and limited.

      • Burgundy

         /  April 25, 2014

        Thanks for the reply Robert. 9% Renewables is encouraging, where is that number coming from? What’s not so encouraging is that we’ve been in an economic depression since 2008 and energy consumption seems to have increased.

        I try to reduce my own energy usage, but the main reductions I’ve achieved so far seem to be in electricity usage. Reducing fossil fuel usage has been a far more intractable problem. And that is with a real will to reduce it. Seems to me that renewable energy sources are just being added to overall consumption and not replacing anything.

        • EIA, total US energy use in quadrillion BTUs. This includes the oil use portion. The primary cause of economic hardship in this country is income inequality, not lack of primary growth which, at this point, primarily benefits those with the greatest stake in markets and tends to leave the rest behind.

  13. This means we are flying blind, because the models don’t account for what the microbes are doing in a thawing permafrost either.

    The entire idea that climate change comes in future decades is laughable , it’s coming next week. Take orange growers for example. The entire citrus crop is under attack now, not some far of place in the future.
    Take coffee, under attack, world wide . Take wheat under attack world wide. Take maple syrup, it’s under attack.
    Take beef , where are beef herds growing ?

    There is no place on Earth that is growing more food tonight.

    That’s very big problem . Because the “green revolution:’ got us here.

    We are at the end of our rope.
    If we don’t stop fussin’ and fighting we are screwed.

    • The price of food will change everything.

    • The only way we are increasing food production is by cutting down more forests and loading up with higher plantable acreage. And that’s just one more devil’s deal.

      Have to agree about the fighting. Unfortunately, monied interests don’t go down without a fight. We saw that in the Civil War. Let’s hope we can bring them down with less violence this time. Or, I suppose that one could hope against hope for a rational energy switch by fossil fuel companies. Not putting my eggs in that basket, though.

  14. Bats, wheat, frogs and oranges are all dying because a fungus has the upper hand

    Nothing in nature is more simple than a fungus.

  15. This list is much longer –

    Bats, wheat, frogs, bananas. and oranges are all dying

    Each one on my list is under attack by a fungus.

    The smallest things in nature make the jump to a new world first.

  16. Gregory T

     /  April 25, 2014

    Reality on the Ground
    Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Climate Change Version

  17. I’m all about abolishing fossil fuels. But there is another issue that involves much worse contributions to climate change:

  1. When April is the New July: Siberia’s Epic Wildfires Come Far Too Early | robertscribbler
  2. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 27, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

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