Permafrost Fires Advancing Toward Arctic Ocean Shores

Smoke from Siberian Tundra Fires August 1, 2014

(Smoke from Siberian permafrost fires entrained in wind pattern blowing over the East Siberian and Laptev seas. What can best be described as a synoptic pattern of smoke stretching for more than 2000 miles. For reference, we are looking at the heart of Siberia, the bottom edge of frame touches the Arctic Ocean. Total width of frame is more than 2000 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

From the Northwest Territory of Canada to a broad central section of Russian Siberia called Yedoma, the permafrost fires this year have been vicious, powerful and colossal. They have burned deep into the basement soil and permafrost layer, casting out billows of dense, smokey material that, at times, has blanketed a majority of both Siberia and the North American Continent.

In Minnesota, two thousand miles away from the still raging Northwest Territory fires, James Cole, who comments here frequently, noted:

Forest fire smoke here in N.E. Minnesota was off the charts yesterday! I went out to watch the blazing red sun sink below the green hills. This almost invisible red ball brought back an old memory from watching a sun set in San Diego County during a very bad fire out break back when I was home ported with my ship there. These Alberta fires are a huge distance from here, but I can guess at their size by the thick gray haze, the smell and a sunset just like one in an active fire zone. (In confirmation to this eye-witness report, the Minnesota Star Tribune’s Meteorologist Paul Douglas reports Heat, Smoke, and Thunder)

Smoke Plume GOES

(GOES satellite shot of smoke plume from Arctic fires crossing Minnesota late yesterday evening. Image source: GOES.)

You can see the vast plume of filtering across Minnesota in the above GOES satellite shot.

Fires that Burn Soil

These fires aren’t anything normal. They burn the land as well as the trees. They cast off an inordinately high volume of smoke, such that they are far more visible in the satellite shot than more southerly fires of similar size. And they continue to burn for weeks and weeks — with lands that were lit nearly a month ago still casting off smoke and fire from the same locations.

The quantity of material necessary to keep such fires burning from the same location day in, day out, must be immense and it is becoming increasingly obvious to this observer that woodland as well as the soil and, likely, the thawing permafrost itself have become involved. It is a basement layer that, when fully thawed can be scores of feet deep. A set of peat-like material that, were it to be sequestered, would likely turn into a hundreds foot deep seam of coal over ages of heat and pressure. Instead, it is now being liberated as fuel for fires by human-caused warming.

Wildfire burning near Laptev Sea August 1, 2014

(Wildfire burning near Laptev Sea on August 1, 2014. The terrain in this region is tundra and tundra lakes, similar to the Yamal region where methane outburst sites where recently discovered. Wildfire is the comet like feature in upper center frame. The shoreline of the Laptev is visible along the lower frame border. Note the steely gray pallor of smoke running south to north [top to bottom] through the image frame. For reference, bottom edge of frame is about 150 miles, fire front is approximately three miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

On the Canadian side, the fires have primarily remained in the same region, simply continuing to burn from mostly the same sources or spreading only to local areas. But on the Russian side, the fires have leapt from their original cauldrons to ignite in massive blazes along regions both east and west, north and south.

Over recent days, fires have been creeping northward along a ridge line toward the Laptev Sea. Yesterday, a large fire ignited in the treeless tundra just 70 miles south of Arctic Ocean waters. You can see a close up image of this fire in the MODIS shot above.

So we have hard tundra burning just 70 miles south of the Arctic Ocean. No trees here, just an endless expanse of thawing ground.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Heat, Smoke, and Thunder

Hat tip to Colorado Bob (First Observation)

Hat tip to James Cole

 

 

 

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