Since the beginning of June (which happened to be the hottest June on record in the Arctic), over 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic circle. Huge fires are blazing in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska, generating smoke plumes that can be seen by NASA’s cameras in space.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN’s weather and climate monitoring branch, has called the Arctic fires “unprecedented”. According to Thomas Smith, an at the London School of Economics environmental geographer, this is the first time that fires of such magnitude have been seen in the 16-year satellite record. “These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares,” he went on.
Arctic wildfires have reportedly emitted as much CO2 just in the month of June as Sweden does in an entire year. Lightning is the suspected cause of the largest blazes, which are located in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Buryatia regions of Russia. The Greenland fire, first detected on July 10, occurred during a particularly warm, dry stretch that led to melting of the Greenland ice sheet starting a month earlier than usual. About 400 fires have been reported in Alaska.
The fires are not merely the result of surface ignition of dry vegetation. The fires appear to be further north than usual, and some seem to have ignited peat soils. Peat fires burn deeper in the ground, enabling them to last for weeks or months while producing vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand wrote an article last week outlining her official climate change plan. In it, she states, “Saving our planet should be this generation’s moonshot.”
She goes on to remind us that “the scientific community is telling us that we only have a short amount of time to act if we’re going to prevent the most catastrophic and irreversible damage in the future. But President Trump refuses to even acknowledge that human-caused climate change is happening.”
Gillibrand promises that, if elected, she will work to get the US to net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by putting enforceable standards in place to ensure the whole economy meets net-zero emissions no later than 2050.