Russian forest fires send plumes of black carbon across the North Pole
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Smoke from Russian forest fires this summer has reached across the North Pole to strike Greenland and Canada, according to new satellite data.
Carbon emissions from global forest fires hit an all-time high for August this year, after large fires in the Russian Far East, as well as California and Canada topped the highest level previous for the month.
Forest fires pump black carbon, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases and particles, resulting in plumes of smoke that can extend thousands of miles from the largest fires.
Fires in California and western Canada emitted smoke that reached Europe, while the plume from eastern Russia circled the Arctic, satellite data from Copernicus, the European program shows. Earth observation.
Mark Parrington, senior scientist at Copernicus, said August’s record for carbon emissions from forest fires in 2021 – a measure that includes both carbon dioxide and black carbon – was in part due to the fires persistent in the Russian Far East.
“The majority of fires observed in the Republic of Sakha correspond to dry anomalies of soil moisture,” he added.
The black carbon emitted by fires also has a particularly damaging impact on the arctic environment, where it can darken snow and ice, causing them to melt faster.
The presence of carbon black is one of the factors in the warming of the Arctic, which is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet.
As snow and ice melt, they expose the rock or ocean below, and dark surfaces heat up faster, creating a warming cycle.
“This is one of the most important feedback loops in the Arctic,” said Thomas Smith, associate professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics.
While the movement of black carbon through the atmosphere is visible to satellites, scientists cannot measure exactly where the soot is settling.
Parrington said carbon black from the Russian fires was quite high in the atmosphere and may not have deposited over the Arctic Ocean. “The deposit potential seemed to be closer to the coast and over the Laptev-Chukchi seas.”
As the Arctic warms, fire becomes a much greater risk for regions such as the Sakha Republic in Russia, which lies partly inside the Arctic Circle.
“We know that climate change plays a very big role there, increasing the frequency of fires, the size of fires and the intensity,” said Smith of LSE.
While many forest fires are considered climate neutral – because trees grow back over time, reabsorbing CO2 from the air – this is not the case in areas where the forest does not return.
“One of the problems is that if the fires are more frequent, the forest will never regenerate,” Smith added.
Jason Box, professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who has extensively studied carbon black on glaciers, said it was part of a cycle of warming impacts.
“The arctic climate is full of amplifiers like this – from increasing humidity, reducing reflective snow cover, increasing heat input to the atmosphere from a more exposed ocean surface, ”he said.
“The extra black carbon emitted by increased high latitude forest fires is basically one of those amplifiers that increase the preexisting warming effect of high carbon dioxide. ”
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