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NASA satellite image looking down at the North Pole on Aug. 2, showing wildfires burning across Siberia (orange dots) and a plume of dark, dense smoke snaking its way toward the North Pole. Photo: NASA Worldview

Intense wildfires burning across Siberia's Sakha Republic sent a plume of smoke all the way to the North Pole on Sunday into Monday, as seen by scientists tracking the blazes via satellite imagery.

Why it matters: The fires have been raging since early spring, and while this region is known for seasonal blazes, there are signs the fires are becoming more intense, starting earlier and lasting longer.

Driving the news: The wildfires in Siberia have been making headlines for months as they've enshrouded communities in hazardous levels of smoke.

  • The northernmost blazes have threatened to disturb the layer of permafrost that rings the Arctic.
  • This permanently frozen soil holds enormous quantities of greenhouse gases, which could be released if it were to melt due to wildfire activity nearby.

Details: According to Mark Parrington, who monitors global fire activity for the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), the Sakha Republic wildfires have set a record for estimated carbon emissions for the period from June 1 to Aug. 1.

  • By burning biomass such as trees and grasses, fires release carbon dioxide as well as other pollutants that can increase global temperatures, constituting a positive climate feedback.
  • However, wildfires are also historically common in this part of Siberia. What's new is how long the fire season is becoming, and how intense and far north some of the blazes have been burning. Similar trends have been observed in the U.S. and Canada so far this summer.
  • In total, wildfire-related carbon emissions here have already surpassed total seasonal emissions seen during the record summer fire season of 2020, eclipsing 100 billion tons of carbon, Parrington tweeted Monday.
  • "Two-thirds through, this season is already the highest seasonal total for [the] Sakha Republic," Parrington told Axios via email, cautioning that this is not yet an annual record for wildfire emissions in that region. "I expect that a new record for the annual total will be set this year the way it is continuing," he said.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • He also noted that weather systems carried a thick plume of wildfire smoke straight across the Arctic Ocean and over the North Pole.
  • While it's not unusual for smoke to be transported across large distances, the polar transport is relatively rare. Depending on the altitude of the smoke, it's possible that smoke from Siberian fires could enhance Arctic sea ice melt by depositing tiny dark particles of soot onto the ice, thereby lowering its ability to reflect incoming solar radiation from the sun.
  • Siberian fires are a key source of black carbon, or soot, transport into the Arctic.

The bottom line: The wildfires in Siberia are likely to continue for another two to possibly three months in some spots, and their intensity during this period will determine how unusual this season's carbon emissions look in hindsight.

Meanwhile, the people living in the region will continue to suffer from health ailments caused by smoke exposure.

Go deeper

Over 20 more countries vow to slash methane emissions

John Kerry during an interview in New York City in September. Photo: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry announced Monday that 24 additional countries agreed to a voluntary pledge to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by one-third by 2030.

Why it matters: The Global Methane Pledge, which the Biden administration announced with the European Union last month, now includes nine of the world's top 20 methane emitting countries, representing around 30% of total emissions and 60% of the global economy.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

GOP senator calls for senility test for aging leaders

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, told me during an "Axios on HBO" interview that he favors cognition tests for aging leaders of all three branches of government.

Why it matters: Wisdom comes with age. But science also shows that we lose something. And much of the world is now run by old people — including President Biden, 78 ... Speaker Pelosi, 81 ...  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 70 ... and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 79.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Intel CEO blames predecessors for manufacturing woes

Axios on HBO

When it comes to Intel's recent manufacturing problems, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger places the blame squarely on his predecessors — many of whom he notes were not engineers deeply steeped in chip technology, as he is.

Why it matters: Gelsinger has announced a broad plan to reinvigorate Intel by doubling down on manufacturing. However, the strategy depends on the venerable semiconductor giant recovering from recent stumbles.