Scientists fear that “ zombie fires ” may have erupted in parts of the Arctic with the devastating fires smoldering underground last year.
Some experts believe that the rare natural event may be partly responsible for a recent outbreak of new fires in Siberia.
In the summer of 2019, massive wildfires in Greenland, Siberia, and Alaska caused massive plumes of smoke to be seen from space.
With the melting of the winter snow, more fires broke out – leading some experts to suggest that the fires were so-called zombies that slept through vegetation and under snow all winter.
Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics, thinks we now see that in the Arctic.
He told New scientist : “We know that they (zombie fires) are real and quite rare. That is why it is interesting to see so many potential places in Siberia. ”
He added that the fires reappeared immediately after the snow melted, giving researchers “strong evidence for zombie fires.”
The region is already experiencing warm weather, causing temperatures in the area to rise by around 4C. (40F).
According to the Washington Post, permafrost melts, which in turn releases planet-warming greenhouse gases, raising the temperature.
In contrast to the wildfires raging in Australia and the US, which depend on dry vegetation for their fuel, the Arctic fires burn the earth itself.
Old peat reserves, which can burn for months and produce amounts of greenhouse gases on an equal footing with entire countries, were burned all summer.
These fires are difficult to extinguish with conventional means. They are also far from firefighters or firefighting infrastructure.
Mark Parrington of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in the UK says these fires are unlikely to have been caused by humans, the most common cause of forest fires, as these fires break out so far outside inhabited areas.
Their location, he thinks, makes it all the more likely to be “zombie fires.”
And that indicates an arctic forest fire season that is even worse than last year’s.
He said, “If these are zombie fires and they are widespread in areas that burned last summer, under the right environmental conditions there could be a cumulative effect of the previous fire season feeding the coming season and leading to large scale and long lasting fires in the whole region again. “
Peat fires naturally cause even more CO2 emissions than forest fires.
Smith told the Guardian that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from arctic fires in June 2019 alone is greater than “all CO2 released from arctic circle fires in the same month from 2010 to 2018 combined”.
That, in turn, makes it more likely that we’ll see more of the heatwaves that made the 2019 Australian and California wildfires so violent and so deadly.
Zombie fires used to be so rare that no official record was kept. That changed four years ago, when 16 were recorded in Alaska alone.
And it’s only going to get worse. Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Forestry Department, says it’s impossible to put out every fire if “Alaska wants to burn.”
Zombie fires, once rare, could soon become a permanent feature of our world.