Heat wave thaws Siberia’s tundra, then sets it ablaze

Extreme Weather

Heat wave thaws Siberia’s tundra, then sets it ablaze

Share on

Climate change-induced heat wave has caused an outbreak of wildfires in a region usually too frozen to burn

After temperatures in Siberia hit a record-breaking 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit last month, the sweltering heat wave is continuing its attack on the usually frigid region with no signs of easing up.

Last week, the Forestry Agency of Russia reported an outbreak of wildfires over millions of acres of land usually covered in permafrost, raising alarms for climate scientists. The parched, searing conditions dried out both the vegetation and the decomposing matter on the ground, setting it up to burn.

Experts interviewed by National Geographic fear that this adds to the mounting number of signs that the Arctic is undergoing rapid, and perhaps irreversible changes that could start an avalanche of consequences for the earth which, once set into motion, may be impossible to slow down.

As the permafrost melts, it releases masses of carbon that have been locked in the frozen peat for millennia, the report continued, creates a vicious feedback loop: As global warming initiates melting, the carbon released into the atmosphere triggers further warming, thereby precipitating even more melting.

Additionally, if these wildfires become more common in the region, it could drastically alter local ecosystems and potentially make the land even more vulnerable to future fires.

While talking about these unprecedented wildfires, Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics, tweeted a worrying outlook: “Will 2019 & 2020 be considered extremes? or are we seeing the beginning of a new regime?”