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Why the Arctic is shouldering

Source(s):  BBC Media Action (BBC WST)

We know the Arctic is melting – but it’s also on fire. And these wildfires could transform the pace, and scope, of global warming in ways that could affect us all.

By Zoe Cormier

The Arctic is transforming before our eyes: the ice caps are melting, the tree-line is shifting northwardsstarving polar bears wander into citiesThe region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, largely due to changes in albedo – the loss of sunlight-reflecting ice and snow, replaced by sunlight-absorbing ocean and soil. This is driving a dangerous positive feedback cycle where heating spirals into more heating.

And, now, the Arctic isn’t only losing its ice. It is being set ablaze.


Part of the reason for the explosion in fires is that this increased heat is drying the soil and melting the permafrost. But there are more surprising reasons, too – such as that the warming climate is leading to more lightning strikes, which are causing more forest fires.


Fires in the Arctic also have huge implications for the global climate. Boreal forests and Arctic tundra cover 33% of the global land surface, and hold an estimated 50% of the world’s soil carbon – more carbon than is stored in all the world’s vegetation, and equal in size to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.


“This is a global problem: fires in one region affect air quality in other parts of the world,” says Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams) at the European Forest Fire Information System. Their monitoring has tracked plumes of smoke from Alaska reaching the Great Lakes; fires in Alberta causing red skies in Europe; a smoke plume from the Canadian Arctic reaching the European Arctic, and more.


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  • Publication date 27 Aug 2019

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