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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