Early Season Russia-Siberia Wildfire Outbreak Expands Due to Heat

An early Siberian and Asian wildfire outbreak that became apparent last week has continued to flare just south of the swiftly retreating freeze line. And while wildfires near Lake Baikal and further south and east toward the Russia-China border continue to flicker, a considerable outbreak has now flared up in Western Russian and Siberia along a zone straddling the Urals and just south of the Yamal Peninsula.

(Wildfires and hotspots run west to east across Russia and Siberia in this May 3 NASA satellite shot. Note the storm system near Lake Baikal which has recently suppressed early season wildfire activity there. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A trough dipping through Central Russia and Siberia has brought rain and cooler conditions — which has suppressed some of the previously extensive wildfire activity near and to the north of Lake Baikal. But temperatures in the range of 5-15 C above average along both the Russia-China border and in Western Russia have combined with warm, southerly winds to spur wildfire activity throughout these regions. In these zones, temperatures have been flaring into the 60s, 70s, and even lower 80s F (16-27 C) through sections. And such abnormal heat has helped to generate a high prevalence of newly-flaring early May wildfires.

Though wildfires in the east along the Russia-China border are still small and lack intensity, the region near the Urals is showing some significant flare-ups. Just west of the Urals near 56 north latitude burn scars as large as ten miles long by five miles wide appeared in the satellite imagery as fires ripped through the area on April 29 through May 3. These fires blanketed the region with 100 to 200 mile long smoke plumes even as the blazes steadily march northward.

(Wildfire flare up near 56 N just west of the Urals. For reference, north is left side of frame, south right side. Bottom edge of frame is approximately 80 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the east and near Lake Baikal permafrost often extends as far south as the Russia-China border. So many of the fires in this region are already burning in or near permafrost zones. In the west, permafrost is removed further north — becoming more common beyond the 60 degree north latitude line. Hotspots in the west are now approaching this zone, flaring as far north as the 59th parallel, but have yet to fully cross into it.

Over the coming days and weeks, wildfires in the permafrost zone will tend to become more extensive as spring advances. Such burning, during recent years, is now much more common than in the past. The increase is due to a considerable and rapid warming near the polar region that has averaged 2 times the larger global warming rate (about 0.15 to 0.2 C per decade for the world and 0.3 to 0.4 C per decade for the Arctic).

(Anomalous warmth is spurring wildfire flare-ups in both eastern and western Siberia and Russia today. Over the coming weak, abnormally warm temperatures are again predicted to flare again over the Lake Baikal region — which will likely reinvigorate the wildfires that have already begun burning there. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning is producing considerable permafrost thaw and creating new fuels for fires in a previously-frozen region. In addition, the added heat has generated more thunderstorms — producing more lightning strikes and other ignition sources. As a result of this warming, the added fuels, and a multiplication of fire ignition sources, Siberian wildfire season now ranges from April through September and often produces fires of a terrible magnitude.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Hauntingly Freakish Siberian Wildfires Now Flicker to Life in April

Hat tip to MlParrish

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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.

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(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

Unprecedented Early Start to ‘Perma-Burn’ Fire Season — Deadly Wildfires Rage Through Siberia on April 12

Permafrost. Ground frozen for millennia. An enormous deposit of organic carbon forming a thick, peat-like under-layer.

Forced to warm at an unprecedented rate through the massive burning of heat-trapping gasses by human beings, this layer is now rapidly thawing, providing an amazing source of heat and fuel for wildfire ignition.

Joe Romm over at Climate Progress has long called this region ‘Permamelt.’ But, with a doubling of the number of wildfires for the high Arctic and an extension of the permafrost fire season into early April this year, we may well consider this to be a zone of now, near permanent, burning — Permaburn.

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inside_burning_village_gv

(Massive outbreak of permafrost wildfires in Russia this week have left up to 34 villages in smoldering ruins. Image from Khakassia, Russia via The Siberian Times.)

For Khakassia, Russia the story this week has been one of unprecedented fire disaster.

Khakassia is located along a southern region of Siberia bordering northern Mongolia and Kazakhstan. It is an area that typically experiences cold temperatures — even in summer time. An area of frozen ground representing the southern boundary for Siberian permafrost. There, as with much of Siberia, temperatures have been forced to rapidly warm by human greenhouse gas emissions. And this added heat forcing has contributed to ever-more-powerful and extensive wildfires as the permafrost thawed — providing an ever-increasing volume of fuels for wildfires.

Last year, Siberian wildfires also came far too early — impacting a broad region near Lake Baikal, Russia during late April. But this year, the fires have come near the start of April. An extension of the burning season in Siberia inexorably toward the winter-spring boundary.

Khakassia Fires April 12 2015

(Extensive wildfires burn though Siberian Khakassia on April 12 of 2015. In the image, we can see down through a break in the cloud deck to view smoke plumes from scores of wildfires raging throughout the region. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles and the largest burn scars range from 3-5 miles across. As Siberian permafrost burn season progresses, we can expect fires that belch smoke plumes across the Northern Hemisphere emitting from burn scars as large as 30 miles or more across. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

This weekend, temperatures in Khakassia soared to 25 degrees Celsius — 15-20 degrees Celsius above average for daytime temperatures in this region even during recent warmer years (1979-2000). A near 80 degree Fahrenheit reading that would be warm in summertime — but one that cropped up in early April as a result of powerful and hot south to north air flows transporting heat across Asia and into the Arctic. These flows wound through Central Asia, warming Khakassia to record temperatures in their inexorable surge toward the pole.

The heat over Khakassia rapidly thawed surface vegetation, extending warmth deep into the thawing permafrost layer. The result was an outbreak of massive wildfires. Beginning this weekend the blazes have, so far, raged through 34 villages and been blamed for 1300 destroyed homes, the loss of nearly 4000 herd animals, 900 human injuries and 20 deaths. Such a fierce and destructive fire outbreak during summer would have been unprecedented. For this kind of event to occur in April, at the edge of Siberian winter, is nothing short of outlandishly strange.

Russian authorities have blamed the fires on a combination of hot weather and human burning. It is a tradition for Russian farmers to burn to clear fields during this time of year. And it is this practice that media is focusing on. However, traditional burning during spring did not historically result in the kinds of massive blazes that ripped through Khakassia earlier this week. Russian farmers, in this case, are unwittingly flinging matches into a tinderbed of rapidly thawing compost. A pile of warming and chemically volatile peat-like perma-burn that is providing more and more fuel for intense fires.

Links:

Siberian Wildfires — 17 Killed and Hundreds Injured as Blazes Sweep Through Siberia

Fire Death Toll Rises to 15 in Khakassia as Republic Mourns

Siberia Ravaged by Forest Fires

Permamelt — Climate Progress

When April is the New July — Siberia’s Epic Wildfires Come Far too Early

LANCE MODIS

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

 

 

 

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