Half a Million Acres Burned in Just One Day — Alaska Shatters Record For Worst June Wildfire Outbreak Ever

All throughout the mainstream media last week we heard the same myopic litany — ‘a massive wildfire outbreak ongoing in Alaska is not abnormal.’ Well, today, all pretense that there was anything normal about the 314 wildfires still raging throughout the state has gone up in a cloud of boreal forest, tundra, and thawed permafrost emitted smoke.

As of 6:28 AM Alaska time today, 1,912,000 acres had burned in Alaska since the start of the year. That’s roughly 1,800,000 more acres burned than just before the current wildfire outbreak started on June 18th and 497,000 more acres burned over just the last 24 hour period alone. By comparison, the previous worst ever June fire outbreak for Alaska during 2004 burned less than 1,200,000 acres of the Arctic state.

Wildfires now burning in Alaska

(Alaska Interagency Center map of currently active wildfires now burning in Alaska.)

With 42 hours left in June and with more than 300 fires still active, it’s pretty clear that the current fire season is a historic, unprecedented, record-shattering event. One that will almost certainly break the 2 million acre mark and may show double the over-all previous record burning during June of 2004. An excessive new record that is occurring in the ominous context of the hottest year in the global climate record and a vastly irresponsible dumping of 50 billion tons of heat-trapping, CO2 equivalent (of which 32 billion tons is CO2) gasses into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning and related industry each and every year.

As Alaska Experiences Worst Ever Burning for June, Northwest Territory Lights Up

As Alaska burned through half a million acres of forest in just one day, a massive heatwave was also setting off extreme wildfires throughout northwest Canada. It was the same heatwave that broke new temperature records all across Washington, and the mountain west. Temperatures in places like Walla, Walla Washington hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 Celsius) on Sunday — breaking the previous all time June temperature record for the day by 4 degrees (2.2 C). A pulse of heat rising off the back of a strengthening El Nino in the Pacific, running all the way up the Western Seaboard and Mountains of the US and driving deep into northwestern Canada.

wildfires burning near great slave lake

(Massive plumes of smoke emitting from wildfires burning near Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territory, Canada on Sunday. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 350 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The added heat riled wildfires burning throughout much of the permafrost zone in Canada, pushing blazes to explosive size and dumping massive plumes of smoke into an atmosphere already heavily laden with Alaska’s brown carbon pulse. In the above LANCE-MODIS image we can see about 30 of these fires burning away near Great Slave Lake. Note that some of the fire fronts in the above image are more than 15 miles long.

Given the satellite assessment from yesterday, it appears that the same excessive heat, dryness and permafrost thaw that has set off record fires for Alaska during June is now also in play for Canada. Initial reports from Canada’ Interagency Fire Center confirm this assessment with 138 new fires erupting in just the past 24 hours alone and more than 2,250,000 acres burned for the country since the start of 2015. As a result of the excessive Arctic heat (associated with both El Nino and overall human warming) and extreme rate of new fire starts, we are at risk of seeing unpecedented wildfire conditions continuing to spread throughout this warming, vulnerable Arctic region.

UPDATE: Preliminary numbers for acres burned in Alaska, according to Interagency Center reports have been downgraded somewhat to greater than 1.6 million total acres burned. These totals are still in record range with between 200,000 to 300,000 acres burned each day. It seems, given the unprecedented number and intensity of fires now burning (currently 300) in AK that there’s some difficulty getting an accurate assessment of conditions on the ground. The downgrade is somewhat good news in light of an overall difficult and record fire season for Alaska. Will keep updating as new information becomes available.

Links:

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center

Alaska Forestry Service Facebook Page

Canada Interagency Forest Fire Center

Over A Million Acres Burned in June

NASA LANCE-MODIS

113 in Walla, Walla? Historic Washington Heatwave Shatters Records

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

(Please help support public, government-funded climate change resiliency efforts like those aided by various interagency fire centers within the US and Canada in addition to the critically valuable satellite tracking provided by the amazing scientific and research teams at NASA.)

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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

 

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