The fires that have erupted in Siberia this summer have been massive, sending out plumes of smoke that have covered a swath of land spanning about 1,000 miles at times. While much of the fire activity has occurred in the Sakha Republic, known for such blazes, scientists are observing more fires farther north, above the Arctic Circle, in peatlands and tundra.
“This seems to be a new pattern,” said Jessica McCarty, a researcher at Miami University in Ohio. In past years, fires “were sparse if not unheard of in these regions.”
One concern is that such fires could be destabilizing peatlands and permafrost — the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, stretching across large parts of Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.
Merritt Turetsky, director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said fires in Siberia are burning “in areas where we expect #permafrost to be more vulnerable.” Typically, these fires would break out in July and August, but this year they spiked in May, a sign of the unusual heat and early snow melt.
Turetsky said the fires are removing the blanket of vegetation that covers permafrost, making it more vulnerable to melting.