Massive Wildfires Burn From California to the Arctic Ocean as Temperature Records Shatter

Record heavy precipitation and cooler conditions across Western North America earlier this year have again given way to record warmth as a strong high pressure ridge and associated extreme Pacific and Arctic Ocean surface temperatures have ushered in blazing heat and multiplying wildfires.

In California, massive wildfires have forced nearly 5,000 people to evacuate. In British Columbia, 14,000 have fled as more than 1,000 firefighters battle numerous large blazes. And along coastal Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, large wildfires are burning near the shores of an, until recently frozen, Arctic Ocean.

(Large wildfires spill plumes of smoke over major sections of North America on July 11, 2017. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

In the U.S., the Whittier fire, which forced mandatory evacuations in southern California, is now 48 percent contained after having burned 12,000 acres. In the north of the state, near Oroville, the Alamo fire is 65 percent contained at 28,000 acres and evacuation orders have been lifted.

As large fires continue to burn across the west, the U.S. Interagency Fire Center now has a stated national preparedness level of 4 out of 5 — or the second highest alert rating. So far 2017 has seen 3,593,000 acres burned in the U.S. — which is above the 10 year average. An average that has already been pushed higher due to human-forced warming and an overall lengthening of the fire season.

Further north, British Columbia is suffering a rash of severe fires as extreme heat and high winds are blasting away at vegetation that vigorously regrew when drought conditions retreated earlier this year. Now, 215 active fires are reported as the province mobilizes national military forces and considers making calls for international aid. Presently, 21 large fires are causing considerable havoc throughout BC. Fire officials remain on heightened alert as strong winds, heat, and lightning threaten to make a bad fire situation even worse over the coming days.

Still further north and extending all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, satellite photographs provided by NASA show large wildfires burning through typically frozen regions of Canada’s Northwest Territory and in northern Alaska. Many of these fires are quite vigorous — producing large smoke plumes that have blanked much of the region.

(Fires burning near the Arctic Ocean on July 10, 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 280 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Such widespread burning over such a large region of North America — extending from California to the Arctic Ocean — has been spurred primarily by record heat building beneath a massive high pressure ridge. In the far North, temperatures approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit just south of the Mackenzie Delta near the Arctic Ocean earlier this week. Over typically cool British Columbia, temperatures have consistently ranged in the 80s and 90s and are expected to continue to hit near the 90 degree mark this week. And in the U.S. Southwest, numerous temperature records were broken over recent days as readings rocketed into the 100s and 110s.

Both the heat and these massive fires have likely been made worse by human caused climate change. Overall, global temperatures have recently hit around 1.2 C above 1880s averages. As a result, over 80 percent of the globe, heatwaves are both more severe and more likely to occur. Meanwhile, due to climate change related factors, the western wildfire season in the U.S. is now 105 days longer than it was in 1970 — just 47 years ago. Arctic sea ice retreat in recent years has likely accompanied further warming of the far northern land masses which have also seen increasingly severe wildfires over permafrost zones.

Links:

Wildfires in Canada, California Force Thousands to Evacuate

BC Wildfire Status — All Eyes on the Weather

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Earth Nullschool

Climate Change is Tipping Scales Toward More Wildfires

Unprecedented Climate Extremes

Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

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Permafrost Thaw Triggers Anthrax Outbreak, Wrecks Roads, Generates Carbon-Spewing Peat Primed to Burn in the Heat of Human Warming

About 75 years ago, a reindeer fell sick to anthrax. Laying down to die upon the frozen ground of Siberia, the poor creature’s carcass froze in the Arctic climate. With it, the deadly infectious bacteria teeming in the deer’s body were stilled into an inert latency.

In the decades after, billions of tons of carbon bellowed out into the world’s air from fossil-fuel burning and carbon-spewing machines spreading around the globe. The heat-trapping properties of these carbon gasses subsequently warmed the Arctic and the frozen permafrost that was this ill-fated deer’s — and the anthrax’s — tomb.

Extent of Permafrost NSIDC

(Extent of Northern Hemisphere permafrost. Due to human-forced climate change, this permafrost zone is starting to thaw. At about 2 C worth of warming, a majority of this region will be under thaw pressure. Thawing permafrost releases carbon dioxide and methane, unearths ancient diseases, and causes the ground overlaying the permafrost to collapse. Image source: NSIDC and Google Earth.)

For the deer, there would be no second life, as rising temperatures bring decomposition 75 years after its death. But as the flesh of that deer warmed, the long-frozen anthrax bacteria began to revive. Over the past week, this climate-change-released anthrax spread back into the deer population, killing about 2,300 reindeer. It also leapt into humans, resulting in dozens of hospitalizations, with half the victims as children — and so far, one human death.

The Permafrost Tomb Opens to Release Undead Microbes

Permafrost, when boiled down to its basics, is primarily composed of frozen dead things. Much of the material is leaf litter, grass, wood, bark, flowers, or other frozen plant matter. But interspersed among what amounts to a many-meters-thick pile of frozen peat stretching for thousands of miles around the northern continental boundaries of our world, are millions and millions of entombed animal carcasses. Many of these are thousands of years old. Some have been there for almost two million years. And each of them may carry latent viruses or infectious bacteria.

Thawing Permafrost causes land to buckle and collapse

(Thawing permafrost causes the land to buckle and crack even as it releases ancient microbes long entombed in ice. Image source: NSIDC.)

Cold does not always kill these microbes, which are often resilient to harsh conditions. Viruses are famous for their ability to remain dormant in far-flung biological reservoirs for geological time periods. Meanwhile, bacteria are capable of sporification, the generation of a tough protective shell to ward off extreme conditions. As permafrost thaws due to human-forced climate change, these ancient, long-dormant pathogens can become active.

To this point, LiveScience states that:

Anthrax isn’t the only pathogen potentially biding its time in the permafrost. In 2015, researchers announced that a giant virus they’d discovered in the Siberian permafrost was still infectious — after 30,000 years. Fortunately, that virus infects only amoebas and isn’t dangerous to humans, but its existence raised concerns that deadlier pathogens such as smallpox, or unknown viruses thought extinct, might be lurking in permafrost.

Human activities such as oil drilling and mining in formerly frozen Siberia could disturb microbes that have been dormant for millennia (emphasis added).

As Bloomberg recently noted, the surprises coming from climate change can be similar to those hidden in a box of chocolates. But in this case, the nasty center happened to be anthrax.

Permafrost Thaw Crumples the Alaskan Highway

Thaw of the frozen, carbon-rich permafrost as the world is forced to warm not only poses an increasing risk for dangerous infectious disease outbreaks, it also results in weird changes to the land itself. Thaw causes permafrost to sag — sinking into pits, holes and bogs as the crystalline lattice of the old, melting ice collapses. Anything on top — be it buildings, highways, runways, animal paths, pipelines or telephone poles — can find its foundations undermined.

Such is the case with the Alaska Highway running from central Alaska southward through northwestern Canada. Constructed during World War II, this road has long been a critical 1,387-mile artery through which goods and traffic were delivered to the far north. With human-forced climate change causing the permafrost to thaw, the Highway and the communities it supports are in jeopardy. Every year, large cracks form in the road’s supporting structure — some of them wide enough for a grown man to walk in — as the permafrost beneath the road thaws and deflates.

Permafrost thaw causes roads to crack sag and buckle

(Permafrost thaw is causing northern roads like the Alaska Highway to crack, sag and buckle. Image source: NSIDC.)

Jeff Currey, materials engineer for the northern region of Alaska’s Department of Transportation, recently noted:

“The Romans built roads 2,000 years ago that people are still using. On the other hand, we have built roads that within a year or two, without any maintenance, look like a roller coaster because they are built over thaw-unstable permafrost.”

It now costs more than 50 million dollars every year just to maintain the Alaska Highway. That’s about seven times the average maintenance cost of a road of comparable length. Climate change’s impact on the permafrost is responsible for this increased cost. With so few roads running through the far north, the Alaska Highway is critical to the communities it feeds into. However, as climate change causes the road to break and buckle, the future stability of these communities is called into question.

About 1,800 Billion Tons of Flammable Carbon in the Thawing Permafrost

As if thawing, unearthing of disease-carrying carcasses, and sagging lands causing infrastructure to buckle and collapse weren’t enough, the permafrost itself contains enough carbon to significantly amplify human-forced warming. Some of this carbon will be released due to the process of warming-induced decay. In other cases, since much of that thawed permafrost is flammable peat-like material, direct burning becomes an even more rapid carbon-release mechanism. The vicious cycle can be summed up like this: warming = permafrost thaw = more fires = warming.

“You have this climate and fire interaction, and all of a sudden permafrost can thaw really rapidly,” Jon O’Donnell, an ecologist with the National Park Service’s Arctic Network, recently noted in Mother Jones.

In total, it’s estimated that between 1,300 and 1,600 billion tons of carbon is sequestered in just the top three meters of permafrost. Another 400 billion tons of carbon is estimated to be contained in the deep permafrost. To put these numbers in perspective, the atmosphere today holds about 850 billion tons of carbon. So if all the carbon in the permafrost were to hit the atmosphere as CO2, for example, we’d be sitting near 1,000 ppm of that heat-trapping gas, a truly catastrophic number. Thankfully, various inertia keep such a thing from happening all at once. Permafrost thaw takes time, and the process of transforming permafrost to atmospheric carbon does not occur instantly or completely even after the permafrost thaws. Nonetheless, the amount of heat-trapping gasses coming out of these thawing lands is expected to be significant.

As the Arctic is warming by about 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade, the permafrost thaws and some of the carbon that’s entombed there enters the Earth’s carbon cycle. This happens as the frozen lands heat up and are transformed into peat bogs or piles of dry, peat-like material. Methane and CO2 bubbles or wafts up from the newly-formed lakes and the decaying material below. The thawed peat starts to decay. If the decay is dry, then the carbon is released as CO2. If wet, it tends to release more as methane. At times, this gas blasts great holes in the surface or causes the topsoil and grass to ripple as a methane-filled blister rises beneath it. All that newly-thawed material becomes fuel added to the ever more numerous fires that continue to bloom and rage throughout the northern parts of the world.

Permafrost Burning

(Alaskan wildfire burns through a permafrost zone near a frozen river. Image source: National Park Service.)

In total, it’s estimated that around 160 billion tons of this carbon could hit the atmosphere by 2100. That would be like adding nearly two billion tons to the carbon emission from fossil-fuel burning every year. All told, such an emission would be enough to increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations by around 35-75 ppm (depending on the state of carbon sinks), if it all emitted as CO2.  The extra carbon in the air would then trap more heat, generating a self-reinforcing cycle that we call an amplifying feedback.

The frozen land therefore releases disease as it thaws, it crumbles infrastructure, and as it dries and melts and wettens and burns it releases still more heat-trapping gasses. All reasons why we should be very trepedacious about the now-thawing permafrost — embedded as it is with zombie anthrax — as well as the various and multiple other surprises human-forced climate change continues to serve up.

Links:

Anthrax Spewing Zombie Deer are The Least of Your Warming Planet Worries

NSIDC

The Alaskan Highway is Literally Melting

Alaska Sinks as Climate Change Thaws Permafrost

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

The National Park Service

More Wildfires = More Warming = More Wildfires

5 Deadly Diseases Emerging From Global Warming

Hat tip to Colorado Bob (who has been warning about diseases due to thawing permafrost for some time now)

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

(UPDATED)

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.

Links/Attribution/Statements

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

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

Wildfires in the Land of Frozen Ground — 1,000 Mile Long Pall of Smoke Blankets Burning Siberia

It’s another day in a record hot world. And in a few hours, just below the Arctic Circle in Siberia, the temperature is predicted to hit 33.2 C (or just shy of 92 degrees Fahrenheit). According to climate data reanalysis, that’s about 15-20 C above average for this time of year over a land filled with cold weather adapted boreal forests and covering ground that, just below the first few feet of duff, is supposed to be continuously frozen.

image

(33. 2 C [92F] temperatures run to within 3.7 degrees of Latitude south of the Arctic Circle [66 N]. These are readings in the range of 15-20 degrees Celsius above normal and are likely record ranges for the area. Nearby, enormous Siberian wildfires now burn. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All along the southern and western boundary of this region of extreme heat, very large wildfires now rage. Sparking near and to the east of Lake Baikal during early April, May and June, the fires have since run northbound. Now they visibly extend along an approximate 1,000 mile stretch of Central Siberia ranging as far north as the Arctic Circle itself.

As recently as June 25th, Russian authorities had indicated that around 390 square miles had burned along the southern edge of this zone in Buryatia alone. For other regions, the tally is apparently uncounted. An unreported number of firefighters are now engaged with these blazes and have currently been assisted by an additional 150 Russian Army personnel. The Interfax News Agency also reports that 11,000 personnel from the Russian Army are currently on standby to battle the massive fires, should the need arise.

Massive Siberian Wildfires June 30

(NASA’s LANCE-MODIS satellite shot for June 30, 2016 shows enormous smoke plumes rising up from intermittent wildfires apparently burning across an approximate 1,000 mile stretch of Central Siberia. For reference, right border of frame is approximately 1,200 miles.)

Today’s Siberia is a vast thawing land and armies of firefighters are now apparently necessary to stop or contain the blazes. Already interspersed with deep layers of peat, melting permafrost adds an additional peat-like fuel to this permafrost zone. When the peat and thawed permafrost does ignite, it generates a heavier smoke than a typical forest fire. This can result in very poor air quality and related incidents of sickness. During 2015, a choking smog related to peat fires forced an emergency response from Russian firefighters. The thick blanket of smoke currently covering Siberia (visible in the June 30 LANCE MODIS satellite shot above) now blankets mostly uninhabited regions. But the coverage and density of the smoke is no less impressive.

Peat and thawed permafrost fires have the potential to smolder over long periods, generating hotspots that can persist through Winter — emerging as new ignition sources with each passing Summer even as Arctic warming intensifies. During recent years, wildfires in the Siberian Arctic have been quite extensive. According to Greenpeace satellite analysis, 2015’s wildfires covered fully 8.5 million acres (or about 13,300 square miles). These reports conflict with the official numbers from Russia. Numbers Greenpeace indicates fall well below the actual total area burned.

(Wildfires erupt to the north and west of Lake Baikal in this June 27 rendering of the Japanese Himawari 8 satellite imagery.)

Thawing permafrost under warming Siberian temperatures not only generates fuel for these wildfires, it becomes an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions. And as the area of land wildfires burn in the Arctic expands together with the heat-pulse of human-forced warming, this amplifying feedback threatens to add to an already serious problem.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

LANCE-MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Russian Volunteers Seek a Foothold as Wildfires Rage in Siberia

Interfax

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Massive Wildfires Erupt Near Russia-China Border — Lake Baikal Blazes Ignite

As human fossil fuel emissions force the world to warm, moisture and precipitation levels are changing. Wet areas become wetter.  Dry areas become drier. Spring and Summer temperatures increase. And earlier spring snow-melt causes soils to remain drier for longer periods, increasing incidents of drought while lengthening the wildfire season. These hot, dry conditions also increase the likelihood that, once wildfires are started by lightning strikes or human error, they will become more intense, larger and long-burning (paraphrase of this Union of Concerned Scientists Report).

******

An extreme heatwave and drought in East Asia is now sparking extraordinarily large wildfires in the Amur region of Russia just across the border with China. The massive fires are plainly visible in the LANCE-MODIS satellite shot and include at least four contiguous fire zones. The fires each show very large burn scars with fire-fronts ranging from 10 to 40 miles across.

Massive Wildfires Amur Russia

Enter a caption

(Enormous wildfires burning along the Russia-China border on May 10th. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 600 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A very large smoke plume cast off from these blazes is now visible in the MODIS satellite shot. It stretches away from the massive burn scars and on out into the Sea of Japan nearly 1,000 miles away. By comparison, smoke plume analysis hints that the Amur fires together now seem to dwarf the recent massive blaze that burned 2,400 structures in the Canadian town of Fort McMurray over the past week. Yet another instance of extraordinarily large fires burning in a world forced to warm by human fossil fuel emissions.

Thankfully, the Amur fires aren’t currently raging near any large settlements. So it is less likely that widespread loss of life or property has occurred as a result. International news media had no reports on the blazes (as of Tuesday), so little information is now available other than what can be discerned by NASA satellite map analysis.

In context, these fires ignited along a ridge zone that has featured extremely warm and dry temperatures. Rising off a heatwave that began in Southeast Asia, these warm airs are now expanding northward toward the Arctic and will, over the current week, contribute to an amazingly potent heatwave building over the rapidly thawing regions of our world. Ridge development in this zone has been quite persistent and we can expect continued large fires creeping north toward the Arctic.

Lake Baikal Fires Ignite

(Wildfires — indicated by red spots in the above map — are lighting off around the discontinuous permafrost zone near Lake Baikal. During recent years, this region of Russia has suffered from the kind of extreme drought and warming associated with human-caused climate change. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

This extremely hot and dry zone has also lit off numerous fires in the Lake Baikal region. Representing the furthest southern extent of the Northeast Asian permafrost zone, heat and thaw in the region due to global warming have resulted in increasing fire hazards. As with Northwest Canada, an unholy relationship exists between fires and thawing permafrost. The permafrost as it thaws and dries provides an understory fuel that aids in fire persistence and intensity — sometimes resulting in hotspots that smolder throughout the winter. And the fires can activate more and more of the permafrost layer below — pumping out additional carbon which can worsen the warming trend which ignited the fires in the first place.

For 2016, warm, dry ridge zones have tended to dominate both Western North America and Eastern Asia. And in a world that since the start of 2016 has been nearly 1.5 C above 1880s averages, we have seen a very intense early start to fire season featuring numerous very large fires in these zones. As May progresses into June, risks for even more intense fires increase even as the fire zone advances with the warm airs heading north toward the Arctic.

UPDATE: The Siberian Times is now reporting on large wildfires burning in the Amur region of Russia and near Lake Baikal. The Times relayed social media messages from villagers in the impacted regions stating:

‘Forests are burning!’, ‘Nothing to breathe in Bagdarin village!’, ‘Turka village is on fire!’

Those now familiar with scenes of the Fort McMurray fires will note a striking resemblance in some of the photos coming out from the Times today:

Buryatia Wildfires

(Severe boreal forest wildfire raging near a village in Buryatia, Russia yesterday bears an uncanny resemblance to the Fort McMurray Fire. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

The times notes that 11 structures have burned and more than 50 villagers have been evacuated. In total, more than 2,100 personnel are now involved in firefighting efforts in Amur, near the Trans-Baikal region, and in Buryatia. Russian officials note that some of these fires were ignited when locals burned grass to clear fields for farming. A tradition among Russians, the fire danger is now so intense due to changing conditions brought on by climate change, that officials have outlawed the practice. Resulting wildfires have, over recent years, consumed massive resources. So it’s understandable why Russian authorities are keen to reduce wildfire ignition sources.

That said, it is likely such laws are not enough to prevent the fires — which could also be ignited by lightning from more prevalent storm systems or by smoldering peat bogs which have become more and more involved in permafrost zone fire hazard increases during recent years.

(Article corrected to include an updated geo-location of fires very near the Chinese border, but on the Amur side in Russia.)

Links:

LANCE MODIS

The Copernicus Observatory

As the World Warms, Expect More Wildfires

Warm North Pacific Winds to Usher in Brutal Arctic Heatwave

Wildfires Rage in Siberia and Russian Far East

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to S.E.

Greenland Melt Extent Breaks 50% on July 4; 2 Standard Deviation Line Shattered Yet Again

These days — in the age of the fossil-fueled hothouse — it’s never good news when a high pressure system forms over Greenland during Summer.

Human dumping of carbon into the atmosphere has forced warming over the last remaining great Northern Hemisphere ice sheet at a rate of about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade. A constant rain of soot from human industry and from increasingly prevalent and intense Arctic wildfires has painted the ice sheet dark, lowering its ability to reflect 24 hours of incoming radiation from the Summer sun. And the result is that each Summer, when the skies clear and high pressure systems form over the ailing Greenland ice, you end up getting these huge surface melt spikes.

Greenland smoke

(Smoke from record Alaskan and Canadian wildfire outbreaks traverses Greenland and enters the North Atlantic on July 2 of 2015. Arctic wildfires are intensified by human-caused warming both through the mechanism of added heat and through the reintroduction of long sequestered carbon fuels through permafrost melt which aids in the initiation, intensification and extension of Arctic wildfire burn periods. In essence soil carbon in the form of thawed permafrost and related methane adds to boreal forest, tundra and bog as burn risks. Soot from these fires can then precipitates onto land and sea ice, reducing its ability to reflect the 24 hour Summer Arctic sun. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Generally a big melt spike can be defined as anything greater than 35 percent of Greenland ice surface area. And we’ve had quite a few of these abnormal events in recent years. The worst of which happened in mid Summer of 2012.

During late June and early July of that year, an extreme high amplitude Jet Stream wave generated very warm surface temperatures over the Greenland Ice Sheet. A very warm fog settled over the ice, eating away at it. By July 8th, more than 90 percent of the surface was melting — an event that hasn’t happened in Greenland for more than 100 years. June, July and August of 2013 and 2014 saw similar, though somewhat less intense, Greenland melt spikes. During those years the ice sheet experienced multiple days in which melt covered between 35 and 45 percent of its surface. And though these instances were not as intense as the unprecedented 2012 melting, they did traverse well beyond the 1981 to 2010 average line (an average that itself includes a rapid warming trend) to, in cases, exceed the upper 2 standard deviation margin.

Melting on Greenland surface 2014

(Record Greenland surface melt during 2012 compared to still strong surface melt years of 2013 and 2014. Image source: NSIDC.)

After record 2012 melt, surface melt for Greenland has remained abnormally high — indicating an increased likelihood that more near 100 percent surface melt summer days may not be too far off in the future. The post 2012 environment for Greenland has thus been a period of continued and heightened surface melt. One that appears to be in the process of building up to another big pulse.

50 Percent Melt Threshold Exceeded During July of 2015

The summer of 2015 marks a continuation and intensification of this ominous surface melt trend. After getting off to about an average melt start during April and May, June saw surface warmth build over the Greenland Ice Sheet with melt extents jumping to between 30 and 40 percent of surface area by mid-to-late month. Further warming coincided with massive Alaskan and Canadian wildfires injecting soot plumes into regional airspace and the building of a substantial high pressure ridge over Greenland. These factors helped enable further atmospheric and ice warming — shoving surface melt above the 50 percent line by July 4th.

Greenland melt extent 2015

(Major Greenland melt spike indicated on July 1-5 in the NSIDC surface melt extent graph. Image source: NSIDC.)

This puts 2015 Greenland surface melt in a range well above 2013 and 2014, with the first week of July already exceeding 2012 melt for that period.

Over the next seven days, models predict a larger warming of the overall Arctic environment even as a high pressure system and associated ridge remains entrenched across Greenland. This predicted weather pattern will tend to lock in significantly warmer than 20th Century average temperatures. That said, forecast highs do not yet indicate a substantial risk for a repeat of 2012’s near 100 percent surface melt. However, projected high temperatures do show some potential that melt percentages are likely to continue to range between 40 and 60 percent surface melt over coming days with the highest risk for melt spikes occurring on July 6th, 7th and 8th.

It is worth noting that we are now in the midst of a substantial Greenland melt spike, one that we’ll continue to monitor over coming days for further developments.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

NSIDC

Dark Snow

GFS Forecast Summary

Record Alaskan Wildfire Outbreak

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

From Siberia to British Columbia Arctic Wildfires Begin an Ominous Ignition

It’s abnormally warm today near Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territory. And the smell of smoke from massive fires to the west lingers in the air.

Temperatures there yesterday afternoon read 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Where I sat typing this blog in Gaithersburg, Maryland, it was a somewhat cooler 67. A north-south temperature flip-flop that has become all-too-common in recent years. A warming in the Arctic that sets the stage for gargantuan summer wildfires burning through some of the world’s greatest carbon stores. Vast and thawing permafrost deposits stretching in a great arc from Siberia through Alaska and on into Northern Canada. Immense loads of fuel for a newly forming ring of fire that is now an entirely human invention.

image

(It was pretty darn hot near Great Slave Lake, NWT territory Wednesday. 80 degree readings in a polar region that, on average, should be in the mid 40s as a daily high for May 13. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Now, fires are starting to flare around this broad stretch of once-frozen lands rapidly warmed by an unprecedented belching of heat-trapping gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere. Though the fires are not yet widespread, many are rather large — erupting over a smattering of areas. It is not typical for large fires of this kind to appear at all in May. Nor is it usual to find them in regions girding the Arctic at this time.

Lake Baikal Fires Still Burn

The first set of blazes ignited during mid April of 2015 through a permafrost zone in the Lake Baikal region of Russia. Though the fires appear to have backed off from the towns and settlements they threatened at that time, they have continued to burn unabated — fading and flaring more than most of the past month.

Lake Baikal Wildfires

(In the above MODIS satellite shot from NASA we see numerous fires still burning near Lake Baikal in Russia. Note the multiple dark burn scars covering vast stretches of land near upper center frame. For reference, the larger, still burning fires in this shot range from about 3-8 miles wide. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

As the more southerly fires continued to burn through thawing permafrost zones, blazes began to erupt further and further north. As of this week, the fires have marched to the shores of Lake Baikal itself, scorching their black scars in the Earth like some great fire giant’s footprints.

Wildfires in Central Siberia

Leaping over Lake Baikal and moving north and westward we come to the great open spaces of Siberia. Here, in recent years, vast fires have burned through grass, forest and permafrost alike. Few settlements dot the wide expanses. So fire suppression efforts have only rallied when towns and cities were threatened. Meanwhile, the once frozen regions all about have increasingly caught fire. Turning the place into a land of summer flame.

Central Siberian Fires

(Fires igniting along valleys and ridge lines in Central Siberia. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By Wednesday, a quartet of significant fires had erupted along a hilly region in Central Siberia. Tuesday, there was but a single blaze. Now four rage across a region that has felt an extraordinary warming not only this year, but for a long succession of years now stretching on for many decades.

Beyond these newly emerging fires, we begin a pass over the wide open plains of Siberia. There we note a tell-tale whiff of smoke or three. But no large burn points are visible in the moderate resolution satellite shot. Continuing on to just south of Yamal, Russia where the odd methane blow holes first appeared last summer we find a region still mostly frozen. But thaw is predicted to come quickly — coincident with a rapid warm up forecast for the next week.

Norman Lake Fires British Columbia

Shifting still westward we cross over Northern Europe, the Atlantic, a thawing Hudson Bay and return to where we started our narrative in Northwest Territory Canada. To near 80 degree Fahrenheit temperatures at Great Slave Lake. And to a thick cloud of smoke issuing up from the nearby valleys of Northern British Columbia.

Norman Lake Wildfire

(Norman Lake Fire in the MODIS satellite shot on Wednesday, May 13. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

There, near Prince George, at Norman Lake, a massive wildfire erupted earlier this week. Unable to contain it, more than 100 firefighters and numerous helicopter and heavy equipment crews quickly found themselves fighting a defensive battle against a rapidly expanding blaze. By this morning, the Norman Lake fire had more than quadrupled to 80 square kilometers in size. Indications from the above satellite shot are that the fire is still growing.

The massive blaze forced two regional districts to issue evacuation orders or alerts and more than 80 people to evacuate residences. Meanwhile, B.C. has closed its Dahl Lake and Bobtail Mountain provincial parks until further notice.

Conditions in Context

For wide stretches of the Arctic, especially in Central Siberia and Western Canada, winter heat and early spring melt are contributing to a very high risk of wildfires. In addition, the decadal warming forced by human-caused climate change is thawing ever greater portions of permafrost, which also adds near surface fuels to traditional brush and woodlands fires.

The early and intense fires we are seeing now represent just the beginning of what is likely to be an extreme fire event for these regions. At this point, we are looking at a worsening fire potential stretching from now through mid September for these vulnerable Arctic zones.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

UPDATE: Wildfire South of Norman Lake Now 8000 Hectares in Size

Siberia’s Road to a Permaburn Hell

Peak Methane Spike to 2845 Parts Per Billion on April 25, 2015 is Just Uncanny

If you look at the annual methane fluctuations in the Arctic — the region where peak global values tend to crop up — highest readings typically occur during the September-through-October time-frame and then again in January.

Over the past few years, peak values have ranged as high as 2600 parts per billion during the fall of 2014 and then again during January of 2015. Typically, peak values then subside as Northern Hemisphere Winter locks in most of the emitting High Latitude sources and we wait for the Autumn and early Winter overburdens to again emerge. So those of us who keep track of methane kinda just sat tight, expecting at least a somewhat calm spring, and waited for the new peak values that would be most likely to pop up by late this year and early next.

But then, on Saturday, this popped up in the NOAA METOP measure:

Major Methane Spike April 25 2015

(NOAA METOP methane measure finds peak values as high as 2845 parts per billion. An extraordinarily high reading, especially for April. Image source: NOAA OPSO.)

A whopping peak value of 2845 parts per billion at the 14,000 foot level of the atmosphere where methane concentrations tend to top out — especially in higher level clouds that have tended to be associated with Arctic wildfires. A value more than 200 parts per billion higher than daily peaks during January of 2015. All-in-all, a huge and unexpected jump at a very odd time for it.

If we look at the above map we find that most of the peak values are in the region of Russia. With many peak values in areas where major wildfires have been ongoing (Lake Baikal region, Khakassia), where wildfires were just starting to flare up (Northern Ukraine), or above other recently thawing permafrost zones. We also find decent spikes over China, Europe, Iceland, spots of the High Arctic, Canada and Alaska, Central Africa, The Indian Ocean, and over Antarctica.

Daily Mean Values Pop as Well

Sam Carana over at Arctic News caught the spike earlier this week and provided this very informative graph cataloging 14,000 to 18,000 foot methane levels for 2015:

Daily Methane Highest Mean 2015

(Daily mean and peak values provided by Sam Carana show how much of an outlier the April 25 spike is. Image source: Arctic News.)

And what we find, from looking at the graph, is that not only did peak values spike to an extraordinary high level in late April, but mean values also took a big jump — rising from 1807 ppb on January 10 to a peak of 1829 ppb on April 22nd. A 12 parts per billion bump in the entire global measure over a four month period (average annual rates of increase have been in the range of 7 parts per billion each year recently). A raging pace of increase 5 times faster than the annual trend.

It’s worth noting that daily peak and mean values do tend to swing back and forth quite vigorously. As an example, a peak mean value of 1839 ppb was recorded on September 7 of 2014. But, as noted above, these are extraordinarily abnormal high values for April. A quite unsettling methane spike at a very odd time of year and happening on dates and over locations that may suggest permafrost zone fire involvement.

Conditions in Context

For context, methane is an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential about 30-40 times that of CO2 over meaningful timescales. Global atmospheric averages for methane have jumped from around 725 parts per billion during the 18th Century to above 1820 parts per billion now. A major scientific controversy is now ongoing over the issue of how rapidly global carbon stores will respond to an extraordinary pace of human warming — with some observational specialists raising the possibility of a very large methane contribution from now activating carbon stores in the Arctic.

Links:

NOAA OPSO

Methane Levels as High as 2845 Parts Per Billion

Sala Burning: Worst Fire in 40 Years Rages in Sweltering Sweden

Worst Fire On Record Raging in Heat Sweltered Sweden

(Sala Fire on August 5, 2014 as seen in this LANCE-MODIS satellite shot. For reference the fire front in this shot is about ten miles wide, the smoke plume, two hundred miles long. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

It’s been scorching hot in Sweden this summer.

Throughout June, July and into August, the Arctic country has seen day after day of record heat. Thermometers hitting the upper 70s, 80s, and even 90s have become a common event in a land famous for its cooling mists, Arctic lights, and frozen fjords.

By Wednesday of last week, the heat had reached a tipping point. Fire erupted across a ridge line just to the northwest of Sala, Sweden and about 120 kilometers north of Stockholm. The fire rapidly intensified, expanding as nearby towns fell under its shadow.

By Sunday, the blaze spread to encroach upon homes as an all-time high of 33 C (91 F) was recorded in Visby, Gotland even as tumultuous and oddly dry storm clouds brought with them more than 47,000 thousand lightning strikes, shattering Sweden’s all-time one-day lightning record and igniting numerous smaller fires throughout the nation.

On Monday, the situation reached a new extreme as numerous communities were threatened with black smoke billowing into streets and neighborhoods.

By today, more than 1,000 people were evacuated and one soul lost as the blaze expanded to cover a region encompassing 15,000 hectares — about equal to 21,000 football fields or 57 square miles. It is now the largest fire in at least 40 years to affect Sweden.

“I feel deeply concerned for the people who have been asked to leave their homes. I also understand that it is a very tough situation for all those struggling to fight the fire.” — King Carl Gustaf, on Tuesday, August 5

Forecast high temperatures Sweden

(Forecast high temperatures for Europe on Tuesday, August 5 show readings above 26 C [80] F extending well past the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Image source: WeatherOnline.)

Reports from the scene are of chaos with eyewitnesses comparing the event to a war zone. In Norberg, fires threatened to enter city neighborhoods as residents were obliged to stop seeking help from over 100 volunteers to defend their homes due to risk of loss of life. The decision to halt volunteer efforts came after 9 of the workers were trapped by encroaching flames.

The fires are extraordinarily energetic and appear to have engaged the basement layer. As with other recent Arctic fires in permafrost or near permafrost zones, areas well below the surface soil zone are involved, resulting in risk of a very intense, long time-scale event:

“It’s burning deep down into the ground and across large surfaces,” fireman chief Per Hultman said in an interview with Expressen. “It’s going to take months to extinguish.”

Norberg had not yet issued evacuation orders but officials there were advising the town’s 4,500 residents to pack their bags and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Sala Fire Races Across a local hillside on Monday

(Sala Fire races across a local hillside on Sunday, August 3rd. Image source: Here.)

A large scale response to the blaze includes a small army of fire fighters from three Swedish regions, the Swedish military and aid from the European Union nations France and Italy.

By Tuesday afternoon local time, the situation remained extremely dangerous with the blaze still raging out of control even as clouds and light rain moved in, providing firefighters with some hope that the fire might lose some of its extreme intensity. However, current reports still indicate that the situation at the site of Sweden’s worst fire in 40 years remained very tenuous with concerns that a shift in the wind to the north might sweep the fire on into Norberg.

Conditions in Context: Human Warming Means More Arctic Fires

Under an ongoing and repressive regime of human-caused climate change fires like the Sala blaze are expected to proliferate and intensify as time moves forward. A combined set of conditions including a permafrost thaw line moving rapidly northward, increasing record heat, temperatures that are rising at a rate twice that of the global average, and deadwood multiplying invasive species are just a few of the ways climate change enhances fire risk. The thawing basement permafrost is particularly vulnerable to fire once it thaws and dries. It creates a peat-like pile, in most places scores of feet deep, that can burn for extended periods and re-ignite long extinguished surface fires. Near or north of the Arctic Circle, there are almost no land zones not under-girded by a thick permafrost layer. It represents a very large pile of potential fuel for fires as it thaws.

So, unfortunately for Sweden and for other Arctic nations, the fire situation is bound to worsen as warming continues to progress.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

WeatherOnline

Emergency Crews Ready for Fire to Spread

One Dead, Hundreds Evacuated as Swedish Forest Fire Rages

One Dead as Swedish Fire Rages on

New Heat Record Sizzles and Strikes Sweden

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to John Lonningdal

 

 

 

Polar Jet Stream Wrecked By Climate Change Fuels Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

This year, the warm air invasion started early. A high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream stretching for thousands of miles over the temperate Pacific and on up into Alaska and the Chukchi Sea slowly drifted eastward. Reinforced by a powerful bank of blocking high pressure systems over the northeastern Pacific, this ridge settled over Canada’s Northwest Territory in a zone from the Mackenzie Delta and over a broad region east and south. From mid June onward, temperatures in the 70s, 80s and even low 90s dominated sections of this Arctic region.

The heat built and built, drying the shallow soil zone over the thawing permafrost creating a tinder-dry bed layer waiting for the lightning strikes that were bound to follow in the abnormal Arctic heat.

By late June, major fire complexes had erupted over the region. Through early and mid July, these massive systems expanded even as the anomalous heat dome tightened its grip. Today, the fires in Northwestern Canada have reached a horrific intensity and one, the Birch Complex fire, alone has now consumed more than a quarter of a million acres.

According to reports from Canada’s Interagency Fire Center, total acres burned to date are more than six times that of a typical year. A rate of burning that, according to a recent scientific study, is unprecedented not just for this century, but for any period in Canada’s basement forest record over the last 10,000 years.

Birch Creek Fire Complex Aerial close-up of Birch Creek Fire complex

(Thunderstorm? No. Smoke from a major volcanic eruption injecting ash into the stratosphere? No. The upper frame shot is an aerial photo taken of the Birch Creek Fire Complex on July 14, 2014 from a distance of about 30 miles away. It is just one of the massive fires now raging in the Northwest Territory region of Canada. A closer picture, taken from a few miles out, reveals the flaming base of a massive smoke plume. Image source: NWT Fire Facebook.)

From helicopter and airplane, the volume of smoke pouring out of these massive tundra and boreal forest fires is amazing, appearing to mimic major thunderstorm complexes or volcanic eruptions. Closer shots reveal towering walls of flame casting billows of smoke thousands of feet into the air above.

The smoke from these fires, now numbering in excess of 186 separate blazes, is becoming entrained in the weakening circumpolar Jet Stream. The steely gray billows now trail in a massive cloud of heat-trapping black carbon that stretches more than 2000 miles south and east. Its southern-most reaches have left residents of the northwestern and north-central US smelling smoke for weeks, now. Meanwhile, the cloud’s eastern-most reaches approach Baffin Bay and the increasingly vulnerable ice sheets of Greenland.

Smoke from Canadian Wildfires drifts toward Greenland

(Satellite shot of smoke from massive fire complexes over Canada spreading eastward. Black carbon and related CO2 emissions from forest fires can serve as a powerful amplifying feedback to already dangerous human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

Across the Arctic, Siberia Also Burns

As media attention focuses on the admittedly horrific fires of unprecedented magnitude raging over Canada, a second region of less well covered but possibly even more extensive blazes burns on the other side of the Arctic Ocean throughout the boreal forest and tundra zones of Central Siberia in Russia.

There, record heat that settled in during winter time never left, remaining in place throughout summer and peaking in the range of 80-90 degree Arctic temperatures over the past couple of weeks. Over the last seven days, massive fires have erupted which, from the satellite vantage, appear about as energetic as the very intense blazes that ripped through Siberia during the record summer fire year of 2012. It is a set of extreme conditions we’ve been warning could break out ever since March and April when intense early season fires ripped through the Lake Baikal and Southern Yedoma regions.

Now, what appears to be more than 200 fires are belching out very thick plumes of smoke stretching for more than 2000 miles over North-Central Siberia and on into the recently ice-free zone of the Laptev Sea:

Sea of Smoke and Fire From Lake Baikal to Arctic Ocean

(Massive sea of smoke and fire stretching from Lake Baikal and northeast over Central Siberia and on into the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

As with the other set of fires in Canada, the smoke from these massive blazes is entraining in the Jet Stream and stretching across Arctic regions. An ominous blanket of steely gray for the roof of the world and yet one more potential amplifying heat feedback the Arctic certainly does not need.

Potential Amplifying Feedbacks in Context

During recent years, scientists have been concerned by what appears to be an increased waviness and northward retreat of the northern hemisphere Jet Stream. This retreat and proliferation of ridge and trough patterns is thought to be a result of a combined loss of snow and sea ice coverage over the past century and increasing over the past few decades. In 2012, sea ice coverage fell to as low as 55% below 1979 levels with volume dropping as low as 80% below previous values. Over the past seven years, not one day has seen sea ice at average levels for the late 20th Century in the north.

Meanwhile, northern polar temperatures have risen very rapidly under the rapidly rising human greenhouse gas heat forcing, increasing by 0.5 C per decade or about double the global average. It is this combination of conditions that set the stage for fixed ridges over both Russia and Canada creating extreme risk for extraordinary fires.

image

(Weak and wavy polar jet stream on July 17, 2014 shows fixed ridges over the Northwest Territory, Central and Eastern Siberia, Northern Europe and the adjacent North Atlantic and Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA GFS and various.)

Should both the current sets of fires continue to rage under anomalous high amplitude jet stream waves setting off extreme heat in these Arctic regions, it is possible that large clouds of heat absorbing black carbon could ring the Arctic in a kind of hot halo. The dark smoke particles in the atmosphere would trap more heat locally even as they rained down to cover both sea ice and ice sheets. With the Canadian fires, deposition and snow darkening are a likely result, especially along the western regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet — zones that have already seen a multiplication of melt ponds and increasing glacial destabilization over recent years.

Recent scientific studies have also highlighted the possibility that human-caused climate change is increasing high amplitude jet stream ridge patterns that are transporting more and more heat into Arctic tundra and boreal forest regions. These regions are more vulnerable to fires due to the fact that trees in boreal forest have uniform characteristics that favor burning and tend to rapidly ignite and spread once the upper branches become involved. The unfrozen soil features a narrow basement layer above tundra which dries more rapidly than the soils of more temperate areas, providing tinder fuel to aid in the initial ignition by lightning strike. Thawing, deeper tundra, when dried, is a meters-deep pile of fuel that has accumulated for thousands of years — a kind of peat-like layer that can smolder and re-ignite fires that burn over very long periods. It is this volatile and expanding basement zone that is cause for serious concern and greatly increases the potential fire hazard for thousands of miles of thawing tundra going forward.

Overall, both boreal forest and thawing tundra provide an extraordinary potential fuel for very large fire complexes as the Arctic continues to warm under the human greenhouse gas forcing. And though climate models are in general agreement that the frequency of fires in tundra regions will increase, doubling or more by the end of this century, it is uncertain how extensive and explosive such an increase would be given the high volume of fuel available. Direct and large-scale burning of these stores, which in tundra alone house about 1,500 gigatons of carbon, could provide a major climate and Earth System response to the already powerful human heat forcing.

Though the science at this point is uncertain, we observe very large and unprecedented fire outbreaks with increasing frequency:

“I think it’s really important for us to take advantage of studying these big disturbance events,” noted Dr. Jill Johnstone in a recent interview. “Because, if we can say anything, we can say that we think they’re going to be more common.”

UPDATE:

The smoke plume over North America has now expanded to cover a large section of the continental land mass. As you can see in the image below provided by NOAA, the smoke plume now stretches from the fire zones in the Northwest Territory (fires indicated by red dots), British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California across much of the North American continent extending as far to the north and east as the southern tip of Greenland and as far to the south and east as Maryland, West Virgina and Tennessee:

Smoke Plume

(Massive North American Smoke Plume fed by Tundra and Western Forest Fires. Image source NOAA.)

As of today and yesterday (17 and 18 July) major wildfires continued to burn over much of the Northwest Territory of Canada even as these very large and unprecedented fire complexes were joined by massive outbreaks in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Fire outbreaks were so extreme in both Washington and Oregon that state officials there were forced to declare states of emergency and seek federal assistance for dealing with the ongoing disasters.

You can see the large, steely-gray smoke plumes from these fires in the LANCE MODIS image taken by NASA yesterday in the satellite shot below:

Massive fire complexes in Washington, Oregon and BC

(Massive wildfires in Washington and Oregon prompt officials to issue disaster warnings. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The smoke has become so pervasive that commenter James Cole has made some rather stark observations from Northern Minnesota:

A sky filled with grey haze, you can hardly tell there is a sun up there. No clouds in the sky, but the haze is incredible. Surely from the great Canadian fires!

Due to black carbon loading, such a large cloud of smoke may result in substantial temperature spikes over regions affected. The heat dome over the US West is expected to expand into the central and northern US this weekend with some readings there predicted to reach the 100s. Already, the southwestern heat is spreading north and eastward under the dome of heat-intensifying smoke with a broad area of upper 80s and lower 90s stretching all the way to the southern shores of Hudson Bay.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, the expanse of wildfires continued to widen with the smoke plume now covering over 2,500 miles and with multiple very large blazes continuing over Central and Northeastern Siberia. Atmospheric black carbon and methane loading (more in a new post) likely contributed to temperatures in the range of 95 degrees F (35 C) near the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev Sea yesterday as recorded in the following screen capture from Earth Nullschool/GFS:

image

(35 C temperature [95 F]  recorded in northeastern Siberia near the Laptev Sea at about 12:30 AM EST on July 18. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA/GFS.)

Links:

Fires in Northwest Territories in Line with Unprecedented Burn

What Fires in the Northwest Territories Say About Climate Change

Recent Burning of Boreal Forest Exceeds Fire Regime Limits of Past 10,000 Years (PNAS)

NWT Fire Facebook

NASA/LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA GFS

Arctic’s Boreal Forests Burning at Unprecedented Rate

Large Particles From Wildfire Soot Found to Trap 90 Percent More Heat Than Small Particles

North American Smoke Plume Tracking by NOAA

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to James Cole

 

Dozens of Massive Wildfires in Central Siberia Belch 1,200 Mile Smoke Plume Over Hot Tundra

1,200 mile smoke plume

(Dozens of monstrous fires belch a 1,200 mile plume of dark smoke over Central Siberia. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Let’s just cut to the chase, it’s been hot in Siberia.

This winter, temperatures throughout large swaths of this typically frigid land of tundra and boreal forest ranged between 5 and 7 degrees Celsius above average. For brief periods spikes in the very extreme range of 20 degrees Celsius warmer than normal were not uncommon.

The unusual heat continued into spring igniting a mass of anomalous wildfires in April, a time when most of Siberia remains frozen. By May, more than a million acres had burned, all well before the typical peak of fire season in July and early August. But that was mere prelude to peak fire season, which we are starting to enter now.

Siberian Heatwave Spurs Massive Fires

The record heat this winter was simply the continuation of a long warming trend fueled by human greenhouse gas emissions. Each decade now has seen Siberia warm at a pace double the global average — more than 0.5 degrees Celsius every ten years. And this extra heat is fueling a terrifying intensification of wildfires, a trend that is expected to show at least a doubling of the annual acres burned in this far northern region by the end of this century.

This year’s early start to fire season may be setting the stage for a record or near record burning this year. And today we have a massive flare up of fires in Central Siberia under a broad heat dome over the region.

Temperatures beneath the dome earlier today were in the upper 80s and lower 90s, departures between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius above average for this time of year. This heat spike hit already warmed and dried lands. Lands filled with the added fuel of thawing tundra and the organic carbon and methane pockets beneath. Lands whose shallow surface layer is a tinder bed for flash fires.

Siberian Heat Dome

(Heat dome over Central Siberia in the upper right hand corner of this GFS based-temperature and weather graphic. Image source: University of Maine. Data source: NOAA/GFS.)

The result was the massive wildfire eruption seen in the satellite shot at the top of the page. A very intense set of enormous fires with fronts ranging from 3 to 34 miles burning through boreal forest and tundra land. This set of blazes is even more intense than those seen at this time during the record 2012 Siberian fire season, although it is worth noting that those fires hit extraordinary strength and size by early July and continued in a series of episodes through mid August. The result was massive smoke plumes eventually encircling the Arctic.

Typically, the fires fill the air with particulate and the moisture loading under the heat dome grows ever more intense. Often, and sooner rather than later, a frontal storm accompanied with intense rains sweeps in, catching up the smoke in its cloud mass even as the towering storms douse the raging fires. A song of flood and flame that has become all too common throughout the very rapidly changing Arctic.

In years of very extreme burning, the smoke-laden clouds darken, losing their white, reflective tops. This further amplifies warming over fire-prone areas, setting the stage for more fires. On the ground, the fires plunge ever deeper into the thawing tundra, seeking more and more fuel. In some cases, the fires are reported to have burned the ground to a depth of 3 feet or more, turning both Earth and Tundra into blackened soot while pumping heightening volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere. The dark smoke aloft lifts away, eventually finding a resting place on sea ice or glaciers. There the heating feedback continues over ominously Dark Snow.

The whole terrible process continues until the globe at last tilts away from the summer sun, shutting the whole dreadful feedback down. But each year, we fuel it more through our burning of fossil fuels. Each year, the global greenhouse gas heat forcing ratchets higher and more and more tundra land thaws as the burn line creeps north, providing ever more fuel for the Arctic flames.

Links:

Support the Dark Snow Project

A Song of Flood And Fire

Support and defend our scientists at:

NASA/LANCE MODIS

The University of Maine

NOAA/GFS

 

Russia Experiences Great Burning: Satellite Shots Show ‘Sea of Smoke and Fire’ Blanketing Russia

I don’t know what’s more troubling — the vast size and extent of smoke and wildfires blanketing Siberia and Russia, or the almost complete silence from Russia and the mainstream media on what appears to be a massive, ongoing climate disaster (Note: NASA did provide an excellent press release via the Earth Observatory link here and below).

In 2010, Russia experienced a deadly heatwave that set off terrible wildfires that belched smoke over many of its more populous cities. These fires spread over a region closer to Europe and so they had great impacts on both property and lives. In 2012, Russia experienced a second spate of massive fires, but these raged over more remote sections of Siberia. At first, Russia was slow to respond. Then, it mobilized an army of firefighters — thousands and thousands — to fight scores of blazes raging across its large, remote Arctic regions. The smoke cloud from these fires was so large it eventually covered a section of the Northern Hemisphere from Siberia to the west coast of North America. Valleys in British Columbia filled with the stench of burning from fires thousands of miles away spurring phone calls from concerned Canadian locals to fire departments there.

Then comes 2013. From spring to summer, central Siberia sweltered under a near constant drought and intermittent heatwaves as a very high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream enabled a powerful heat dome to form during June and then re-form during late July and early August. The late July heat surge appeared to be the final insult setting off an enormous rash of fires throughout central Siberia and Russia. By early August the number of fires raging out of control swelled to 170. Today, the number is probably closer to three hundred. Human-caused climate change is, yet again, scarring Russia with a terrible set of burn marks.

It is difficult to look at today’s Aqua satellite shot and not stand in fear and awe.

Great Burning in Russia, August 5, 2013.

Great Burning in Russia, August 5, 2013.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

What we are looking at in this shot is the entirety of north-central Russia covered by a boiling cloud of smoke under which a massive field of fires burn. In the north, the large smoke cloud is now spilling out over the Kara Sea. In the south, we can see it just reaching northern Mongolia. In the east, a string of very large fires are roaring through tundra and boreal forest near western Kamchatka. And in the west, a broad tongue of smoke juts off the map and on toward Moscow whose skies are just starting to darken with smoke.

Though normally this massive swath of smoke would be driven eastward over Kamchatka and then into the Pacific Ocean, a combination of a very weak Jet Stream flow and powerful heat dome high pressure system is funneling this smoke westward in retrograde to the prevailing upper level wind flow. This anomalous pattern is similar to an upper level low that took a backward course over more than 3,000 miles of the US, marching all the way to the Pacific Ocean and into climate change weather weirdness history.  But, in this case, smoke from hundreds of wildfires is being driven backward against the prevailing wind flow for nearly 5,000 miles. In both the former and the latter cases, the typical Jet Stream pattern has been completely compromised as large backward eddies dominate major Northern Hemisphere regions for extended periods.

Closer in Modis shots with heat map imagery provide us with fire locations beneath the smoke dome (Hat tip to Colorado Bob for his sharp eye).

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire West on August 4, 2013.

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire West on August 4, 2013.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

If you cut the ‘Great Burning’ image I posted above in half, this shot would represent its western portion. Each red dot in the image represents a single wildfire. Some, which you can identify by their smoke plumes, are readily visible. Others are entirely masked by the massive covering smoke cloud.

Great Burning Russia East

Russian Sea of Smoke and Fire East August 4, 2013

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

On the eastern side of this great burning area in Russia, we find new, very large fires raging over Arctic Siberia and spreading into Kamchatka. It is difficult to exaggerate the immense side of some of these burn zones with the largest measuring 250×250 miles at its widest points. In this image, the large scorch marks left over by some of these fires begin to become visible. But zooming in on today’s Modis image provides even more clairity:

70x30 mile scorch mark left by a single, still burning, Russian wildfire.

70×30 mile scorch mark left by a single, still burning, Russian wildfire.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In this shot, we find a massive 70X30 mile scorch mark scarring both tundra and boreal forest land in Arctic Siberia. Other, smaller scorch marks from past fires are also visible in this image. But this single, recent burn mark is just one of many that are now spreading out over similar regions of the Russian Arctic.

Unfortunately, heat and dry weather are expected to persist in this region for at least the next week. The forecast for Monday, August 12 calls for 77-86 degree or higher temperatures to remain in place over much of Arctic Russia with cooling confined to only the most northerly regions.

Large swath of 77-86 degree temperatures predicted to remain over Arctic Russia on Monday, August 12.

Large swath of 77-86 degree temperatures predicted to remain over Arctic Russia on Monday, August 12.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

UPDATE: FURTHER READING ON THIS EVENT FROM NASA

(Hat tip to Prokaryotes)

NASA provided an excellent report on this particular event four days ago that is well worth reading:

The summer of 2012 was the most severe wildfire season Russia had faced in a decade. 2013 might be headed in the same direction after an unusual heat wave brought a surge of fire activity in northern Siberia in July.

A persistent high-pressure weather pattern in the Russian Arctic—a blocking high—contributed to the heat wave, which saw temperatures reach 32° Celsius (90° Fahrenheit) in the northern city of Norilsk. For comparison, daily July highs in Norilsk average 16° Celsius (61° Fahrenheit). Blocking highs are so named because they block the jet stream from moving rain-bearing weather systems along their normal west-to-east path; this leads to “stuck” weather patterns with long periods of stable air and exceptional heat.

(Read more here)

 

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