1 big thing: U.S. and Asian wildfires are setting emissions records
Wildfires burning across parts of the U.S. and Canada are unusually intense and are emitting more carbon dioxide than usual during midsummer, scientists say. Huge blazes in Siberia are also adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere while contributing to air pollution, Andrew writes.
Why it matters: The fires are thriving in areas experiencing extreme heat and drought conditions. They are both a consequence of climate change and an accelerant of global warming.
Driving the news: About 300 wildfires are burning in British Columbia alone, and about 80 large fires are burning in the West. In Siberia, intense and widespread wildfires have broken out, particularly in the Sakha Republic.
- Satellite observations and computer models developed by scientists in Europe show that the fires in North America and Siberia have been unusually intense this summer.
- The blazes in North America, in particular, are emitting higher amounts of greenhouse gases than what is typically seen at this point in an average wildfire season.
Context: Fires are thriving in environments that have seen persistent weather extremes with clear ties to global warming.
- In the West, it's drought and extreme heat, including a total of at least four noteworthy heat waves so far this summer — with more likely.
What they're saying: "In the more 10 years that I've been monitoring wildfires in the boreal forests, I can't recall a period where there was such widespread wildfire activity in both North America and Russia simultaneously," Mark Parrington of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, a European agency, told Axios.
The intrigue: There are urgent scientific questions about how the wildfires and unusual warmth in Siberia are affecting permafrost, which is the layer of permanently frozen soil that rings the Arctic.
- If the blazes are accelerating permafrost thaw, then frozen organic matter locked away for centuries or more would begin to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases and worsening global warming.
- The jury is still out, though there are some troubling signs, according to Merritt Turetsky, who studies Arctic ecosystems at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
- "Time will tell if we are watching the beginning of a true regime shift for Arctic fires," she said.
The big picture: Both the severe wildfire season so far in the western U.S. and Siberia are not a fluke, as each has seen a string of extreme fire years of late.
What's next: The peak of the North American wildfire season is still to come, and in recent years, the Siberian fire season has extended into September and even early October.