After days and, in some cases, weeks of ongoing burning, immense fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, the US Northwest and Russia today as massive clouds of smoke continued to spread over the Northern Hemisphere.
In Washington, the state’s largest fire on record — The Carlton Complex Fire — was declared a federal disaster area by President Obama today as more than 2,000 firefighters continued to struggle to get the blaze under control. As of this afternoon, the 400 square mile fire was just 16% contained, though a bout of rain and moisture were aiding firefighters in their efforts.
About the fires, Obama noted:
A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns, and a lot of that has to do with climate change.
More than 200 homes have been consumed by the fire and the loss of one life is attributed to it. With many residences still at risk, the situation remains very dangerous. The Carlton blaze was just one of scores of fires igniting over the US Northwest this week, scorching nearly a million acres and spurring the call-up of nearly 10,000 firefighting personnel.
Major Northwest Territory Fires Still Ongoing
Meanwhile, in Canada, fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, casting 1,000 mile streams of smoke into an atmosphere already heavily laden from the ongoing burning. It is a kind of smoke soup hanging in the air that has become all too common for this Arctic region:
(1,000 + mile stream of smoke issuing from very large fires still raging over the Northwest Territory in Canada on July 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
Provinces remained at a level 4 alert status (out of a range of 1-5) indicating a high-to-extreme risk of continued fires. In total, 904,000 hectares (2,334,000 acres) have burned in the Northwest Territory so far this year compared to the typical ten-year average at 142,000 hectares. Throughout Canada, a total of 2,914 fires have been reported with 1,404,000 hectares burned. Over 800 fire fighters, more than 50 helicopters, and 5 fixed wing aircraft were involved in the ongoing response to these extraordinary blazes.
Epic Russian Fires The Worst of the Lot
In Russia, states of emergency remained in place along with continued travel restrictions over broad sections of Yakutia as a very large swath of Siberian tundra continued to belch immense billows of smoke. Numerous fires of over 400 square miles in size are plainly visible in the satellite shot. Massive streams of smoke continue to issue from these blazes blanketing more than 2,000 miles of sky.
(Very large fires burning in Yakutia on July 23, 2014. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 2,000 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
Yakutia is a region of Russia sitting atop a massive pile of thawing permafrost, perhaps the most carbon-rich zone in all of the Arctic Northern Hemisphere. The fires there seem to burn both woodlands and ground, lingering for many weeks and are only extinguished by the most powerful of downpours. Wildfires in these shots appear to rival the massive blazes ripping through a nearby region during Russia’s worst fire season — 2012. The massive plumes of very dense smoke and explosive blazes — reminiscent of a record-setting year.
(Close up of very intense fires beneath dense pallor of smoke in Yakutia. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles. Together, these fires easily cover an area rivaling that of a moderate-sized state. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
Warming for this region of the world is among the fastest for the globe, proceeding at a pace of 0.5 C per decade or more than double the average. Due to its very large carbon store – both in boreal forest stock as well as thawing tundra — Yakutia remains one of the locations on watch for severe CO2 and methane releases as an amplifying feedback due to human-caused climate change. Inefficient burning during the current blazes appears to have unlocked some of the methane stored in soils there, lacing cloud tops with CH4 readings of 200-300 ppb higher than the global average.
Northern Hemisphere ‘On Fire,’ Wind Blows Smoke Away From Sea Ice, For Now
University of Maryland physicist Dr. Raymond Hoffman seemed stunned by the scope of the fires burning over the roof of the world this week saying: “The Northern Hemisphere is on fire,” in a blog post on Sunday. Dr. Hoffman described the scene as a “hazy, smokey mess” and seemed taken aback by the sheer scale of the area affected remarking that it is rare to see so much smoke painting the northern skies. The kind of smoke stew that we’ve seen all too much of in recent years.
Fortunately, winds out of the north in both Canada and Russia blew the smoke plumes southward over the past couple of days, sparing both sea ice and ice sheets a rain of melt-inducing black carbon. Over the next few days, winds are forecast to return to a south-originating direction, putting the ice once again in the firing line.