Scores of City-Sized Siberian Wildfires Spew 2,500 Mile-Long Plume of Smoke Over Northern Hemisphere

Today’s satellite pass by NASA’s LANCE MODIS array tells a dire story that practically no one in the global mainstream media is talking about. Northern and Central Siberia is burning. Scores of massive fires, some the size of cities and small states, are throwing off a great pall of smoke 2,500 miles long.

The vast boreal forests are lighting off like climate-change-enhanced natural fireworks. The tundra and permafrost lands — some of them frozen for hundreds of thousands to millions of years — are thawing and igniting. But for all of the loudly roaring fires, most of the major media reporting agencies have thus far produced only deafening silence.

Country-Sized Swath of Siberia is Covered With Wildfires

Massive Siberian Wildfires

(Large sections of Russia and Eastern Europe are blanketed by smoke from massive Siberian wildfires in today’s LANCE MODIS satellite shot.)

Imagine an enormous rectangle. At its northwestern end is the Yamal Peninsula and the shores of the Arctic Ocean. At its southeastern end is Lake Baikal, nearly 2,000 miles away. The vast expanse between is littered with fires. Some of these fires are relatively small. But others are vast, sporting firefronts 20-25 miles wide and revealing individual burn scars that, according to unconfirmed satellite analysis, appear to cover as much as 400 square miles of land.

And it’s not just a case of a smattering of these fires burning across the broad region. Rather, these massive fires are burning in multiple clusters, some of which would easily cover a region the size of the US state of South Carolina. The below image is a 300-by-220-mile box showing a section of North Central Arctic Siberia between north latitudes 58.5 and 66.2. Note that a significant portion of the land area in this satellite capture is covered by very large fires.

South Carolina Sized Siberian Region covered in smoke and flame

(Extensive swath of fires burn over North Central Siberia. Image shows a 300-by-220-mile area. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These very large fires are vigorously burning in a contiguous permafrost zone of Siberia. During recent years, as human fossil-fuel burning has continued to warm the Earth, such fires have become more and more common. Burning not only forest, the fires have also consumed duff, peat, and, increasingly, recently thawed sections of the permafrost. Though these fires are now in the process of activating a very large northern carbon store, and though such an event represents a dangerous amplifying feedback to human-forced warming, their occurrence and extent has been greatly underreported by the Russian government.

Fires Burning Near Yamal, Frozen Methane Deposits, Fossil Fuel Production Infrastructure

Further north, even the typically hard-frozen tundra regions are burning. Near the town of Nuya, along Obskaya Bay just east of Yamal, Russia and located in the fossil fuel development zone between north latitudes 66 and 67.3, enormous fires are raging. Like the recent Fort McMurray fire, these blazes appear to be burning near fossil fuel infrastructure and development zones.

Fires near Nuya Russia

(Large fires on the shores of Obskaya Bay in Northwestern Russia on July 18, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The Yamal region was also the location of the recent, and controversial, methane blowholes. The region sits over large gas deposits, some of which are in the form of clathrate. And some of the previously stable frozen deposits appear to be facing an increasing release pressure due to thawing, the invasion of warm liquid water into the subterranean environment, and, at the near-surface region, lightning strikes (which were previously unheard of in this zone) and wildfire pressure.

Up to 40-F-Above-Average Temperatures Blanket the Northern Fire Zone

Today, a good number of these fires burn north of the farthest northern extent of the Siberian tree line in 77 to 86 degrees F (25 to 30 C) temperatures. For some regions, these temperatures are 30 to 40 degrees F (17 to 22 C) above average. At the northwestern end of the vast, fire-marred range that now covers a land area larger than most countries, temperatures near the Arctic Ocean shore at 70.9° N, 81.4° E are 86 degrees F (30 C) — about 40 degrees F (22 C) above average. Not far away, the wildfires in the above image burn.

86 Degrees Near Arctic Ocean

(Extreme heat in the range of 30 to 40 degrees F above average temperatures [17 to 22 C] near Arctic Ocean shores greatly increases Arctic wildfire risk. Such extreme heat is related to human-forced climate change. As the Arctic warms at a rate two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, such fire-hazard and related potential for worsening amplifying feedbacks is also likely to increase. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Despite increasing prevalence and extent, Siberian wildfires have continued to be underreported during recent years, despite the fact that out of all major Arctic permafrost and boreal forest regions — Alaska, Canada, and Siberia — Siberia has shown the visibly greatest increase in wildfire frequency and extent. This is likely due, in part, to a now-documented underreporting of wildfire extent by the Russian government.


Earth Nullschool


Yamal Map

Methane Blow Holes

Russia Significantly Under-Reporting Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Jim Benison

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Robert.

    I recall you stating a couple of years ago that Russia was going to burn down thanks to Climate Change. Looks like that prediction is now becoming fulfilled prophecy! 😦

  2. mfranklin

     /  July 18, 2016

    American fossil-fueled media won’t report these fires because, IMHO, they thoroughly disprove the denialist meme that out of control fires are the result of years of misguided fire supression. They don’t want people to know about them if they can’t blame them on Smokey the Bear environmentalism.
    These are fires in areas that haven’t had much, if any, fire suppression to speak of,ever.
    Maybe after the flat-earthers conclude their party in Cleveland we will get some reporting on this, but probably not.It would take something like an acrid smoke odor in the skies sickening people from the east coast to the west coast to get their attention. And even then they would still try to downplay and deny, much the same as frackers do with earthquackes.

  3. Colorado Bob

     /  July 18, 2016

    Add this one to the mix as well –

    06:30 UTC

    Fires and smoke in central Russia

  4. climatehawk1

     /  July 18, 2016

    Scheduling tweet.

    • That is a mystery – SO2 and CO2 fingerprints in the plume. No news about a fire near North or West Bay, and not much forest to burn, nor geological activity around there either.

    • Looks like a plume from this fire:

      Not a very big fire, I think. Looks really intense though, there was a very intense CO and CO2 and SO2 plume from it. It made a very intense plume, drifting out over the Atlantic. Wonder if this was a peat fire?

      Big hairy algae bloom up there, too, appears not to be related, to me. Turn on the Chlorophyll A data products by clicking the eye symbol to the left of the data product names in the control box on the left to see the algae bloom.

  5. Albedo usually sinks after a fire.

  6. Recovering forest after a wildfire will take a quarter of a century or more of optimal growing conditions. With climate stressed conditions, it might take longer than human lifetimes. Recovering the peat, permafrost and clathrate deposits could take geologic timescales.

    Some of the damage from the wildfires, on human timescales, may well be permanent.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  July 19, 2016

      But these fires are not ‘one-offs’. They will occur again and again, getting worse and worse. There will be no ‘recovery’ for millennia if not millions of years.

  7. marcel_g

     /  July 19, 2016

    The effects are already affecting everywhere, and like this, dramatically so. Really worried what happens with the next degree C increase.

  8. Stilgar Wilcox

     /  July 19, 2016

    Looks like a tipping point will have to be exceeded to the point of causing calamity on a global scale before the headline news is forced to report it (but then it will be too late). Maybe the reason why is because our species has deluded itself into a God Complex in which we think we can do anything we want to this planet irrespective of some out of sight, out of mind places (so far) going through some dramatic changes (that some real annoying children scarers keep droning on about via ‘data’ on graphs). “Isn’t Earth amazing with its climate variability”, the deniers will say, right up until it’s smacking them upside their heads, then they will blame the tree huggers for failing to clearly explain the risks (to the continued usage of their giant SUV’s & trucks) of runaway AGW. Apparently they do not care what happens to their kids or grandkids, except when they are scared by talk of CC, go figure, but oh my, don’t mess with the right to drive those giant vehicles to go buy more stuff!

    • The more I read, the more it seems like ‘too late’ was a while ago.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  July 20, 2016

      Wilcox, you have it. Despite the denialists STILL growing more fanatical and vicious, I have heard the beginnings of a tactic that they will probably try to use when the catastrophe is undeniable, and folks are looking for them with pitch-forks, base-ball bats and lengths of hempen rope. That is, that it is all the Greenies fault for not warning us in time. It takes a really psychotic ability to lie without conscience, even in the most preposterous manner, but the Right have that gift in trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) and they will have the services of the Rightwing MSM sewer.

      • Stilgar Wilcox

         /  July 25, 2016

        “It takes a really psychotic ability to lie without conscience, even in the most preposterous manner, but the Right have that gift in trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) and they will have the services of the Rightwing MSM sewer.”

        Yes, psychotic and irrational, Mulga, but certainly ready as you point out to defend themselves by pointing fingers using their powerful media outlets. When people are that ridiculous they never admit anything, instead shifting blame elsewhere in the blink of an eye.

        Our family lives just north of SF, but unfortunately my Wife’s in-laws in LA are (believe or not – wait for it) voting for Trump and don’t believe in GW. Last time we got together my brother in law looked at me like I was the devil or something because I wouldn’t agree with his rejection of GW. Needless to say we aren’t going down south anytime soon.

  9. Robert, I don’t know if you’ve seen this one, but it was posted on the ASIF:

    “One sobering take away: Ted Schuur, Vulnerable Permafrost thaw could result in a CO2 gain estimate of 75 ppm by 2100.”

    That sounds like it has a lot of extra atmospheric warming potential. Definitely sobering.

    • Thanks, Marcel. That’s a good one. At 450 ppm CO2 initial, a good feedback range is 17 to 51 ppm depending on carbon store sensitivity in the Arctic. Of course, there’s a rest of world calculation to also add in here.

      • The sobering part for me is that what little, if any, margin we still have will mostly be taken up by this one feedback, probably even under aggressive emissions reduction scenarios. Then there are the other feedbacks to worry about.

  10. Jay M

     /  July 22, 2016

    DT’d so repetitious post:
    Short paper on Oxygen isotope ratios that are important in paleoclimatology. Wonder if there is a “Keeling curve” in contemporary isotope ratios? Climate does seem to march up the latitudes.

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