Climate: summer wildfires emit record amount of CO2

This aerial picture taken from an airplane on July 27, 2021, shows the smoke rising from a forest fire outside the village of Berdigestyakh, in the republic of Sakha, Siberia. – Russia is plagued by widespread forest fires, with the Sakha-Yakutia region in Siberia being the worst affected. According to many scientists, Russia — especially its Siberian and Arctic regions — is among the countries most exposed to climate change. The country has set numerous records in recent years and in June 2020 registered 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the town of Verkhoyansk — the highest temperature recorded above the Arctic circle since measurements began. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

by Marlowe HOOD
Agence France-Presse

PARIS, France (AFP) – Wildfires in Siberia, North America and around the Mediterranean caused record levels of planet-warming CO2 emissions this summer, the EU’s Earth monitoring service said Tuesday.

Globally, forests going up in flames emitted more than 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 — equivalent to India’s annual emissions from all sources — in July and August alone, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported.

More than half of CO2 emissions from wildfires in July came from North America and Siberia.

Heatwaves, drought conditions, and reduced soil moisture amplified by global warming have contributed to unprecedented fires in three continents.

Even the Arctic Circle was on fire, releasing some 66 million tonnes of CO2 from June through August, with nearly a billion tonnes from Russia as a whole over the same period.

“What stood out as unusual were the number of fires, the size of the area in which they were burning, their intensity, and also their persistence,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist and wildfire expert at CAMS.

Fires started raging across northeastern Siberia in June and only started to abate in late August and early September, the satellite-based monitoring service reported.

Emissions for the region from June through August were nearly double compared to the year before.

Burnable area doubled

This NASA Earth Observatory image released on August 7, 2021 shows smoke emitted from hundreds of forest fires covering most of Russia on August 6, 2021. This true-color image, which was acquired by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite on August 6, was created using data from four passes of the satellite over the region. The smoke, which was so thick that most of the land below was obscured from view, stretches about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from east to west and 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from south to north—but it captures only a small part of the smoke from the Russian fires. This week, wildfire smoke has travelled more than 3,000 km (1,864 mi) from Yakutia to reach the North Pole (Photo by Handout / NASA Earth Observatory / AFP)

While satellite images do not reveal how these fires start, many of the blazes early in the summer are thought to have been caused by “zombie” fires that smoulder through the winter and then reignite.

In the western US and Canada’s British Columbia — which saw record temperatures nearing 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) — fires ravaged huge swathes of forest.

Massive plumes of smoke from Siberia and North America moved across the Atlantic, reaching Britain and parts of Europe in August.

Nations along the Mediterranean rim, meanwhile, saw uncontrolled wildfires of their own, made worse by persistent heatwaves.

Daily fire intensity for Turkey reached the highest levels ever recorded in the nearly 20-year dataset. Other countries scorched by out-of-control blazes included Greece, Italy, Albania, North Macedonia, Algeria and Tunisia.

Fires hit Spain and Portugal in August.

Rising temperatures and increased dryness due to changing rainfall patterns create ideal conditions for bush or forest fires.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has reported that the five-year period to 2020 was “unprecedented” for fires, especially in Europe and North America.

“Globally, increases in temperature and aridity have increased the length of fire seasons and doubled potential burnable area,” the UN’s IPCC climate science advisory panel concluded in a draft report obtained by AFP.