Siberia on fire – every summer

by Pasi Autio, July 14, 2020 in WUWT

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.

Annual burned area in Siberia 1997-2016

Wildfire, Siberia:

Figure: Natural forest fire in Russia.