Northern hemisphere summer – the season when forest fires in Siberia are on the loop. And usually every single new article about the Siberian forest fires somehow links them to climate change. Therefore it is good time to see how the forest fires has changed during the years. Is there really an increasing trend of Siberia forest fires as the news suggests and what is continuously predicted based on climate models?
With an area of 13.1 million square kilometres (5,100,000 sq mi), Siberia accounts for 77% of Russia’s land area. Majority of the Siberia is sparsely inhabited wilderness with little or no roads. Therefore, what sets on fire, usually burns until rain or other natural factor ends the fire. Southern Siberia also has extensive logging.
Getting reliable fire area data based on available literature seems to be problematic. According to the literature (1) USSR-era fire area data is unreliable and was consistently and severely underreporting fires on sparsely populated areas due to incomplete reporting structure that left most of the country unmonitored (6). The situation was improved only after western satellite data was taken in use by post-USSR Russia. But considering the size of Siberia and the fact that it is very sparsely populated, it is not wonder that no reliable data can be generated without the help of satellites. But even on satellite era some smaller fires goes undetected due to cloud cover or sensor detection limits (6).
After extensive literature study, I found no actual study providing satellite-based dataset for Siberian forest fires for post-USSR era either, which is strange considering how much coverage the Siberian forest fires have got lately. There seem to be an effort going on to create such a dataset for USSR-era years, however, by digitizing old satellite images taken since 1979, but let’s discuss that later a bit more.
This essay from director of NSIDC, Mark Serreze, is provided for reference. You may remember Serreze who once said “the Arctic is screaming” while botching and then backpedaling on claims of “ice free summers” on the near horizon for the Arctic that never happened. Give it all the consideration it is due. For some perspective, see my article on a previous 100 degree event above the Arctic circle over 100 years ago. By the way, with 24 hours daylight above the Arctic circle, and near 24 hour daylight in Siberia this time of year, (the first day of summer aka the summer solstice) is it any surprise it would get warm?
by P. Homewood, June 27, 2020 in NotaLotofPeoppleKnowThat
The Conversation has now got involved in the Arctic heatwave scare, with this article by Jonathan Bamber, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Bristol :
On the eve of the summer solstice, something very worrying happened in the Arctic Circle. For the first time in recorded history, temperatures reached 38°C (101°F) in a remote Siberian town – 18°C warmer than the maximum daily average for June in this part of the world, and the all-time temperature record for the region.
New records are being set every year, and not just for maximum temperatures, but for melting ice and wildfires too. That’s because air temperatures across the Arctic have been increasing at a rate that is about twice the global average.
All that heat has consequences. Siberia’s recent heatwave, and high summer temperatures in previous years, have been accelerating the melting of Arctic permafrost. This is the permanently frozen ground which has a thin surface layer that melts and refreezes each year. As temperatures rise, the surface layer gets deeper and structures embedded in it start to fail as the ground beneath them expands and contracts. This is what is partly to blame for the catastrophic oil spill that occurred in Siberia in June 2020, when a fuel reservoir collapsed and released more than 21,000 tonnes of fuel – the largest ever spill in the Arctic.
So what is wrong with the Arctic, and why does climate change here seem so much more severe compared to the rest of the world?