Technology & Science

Siberian temperatures hit June record, wildfires spread

Temperatures in Arctic Siberia soared to a record average for June amid a heat wave that is stoking some of the worst wildfires the region has ever known, European Union data shows.

Average temperatures in region more than 5 C above normal

This image from May 25 shows a car burned during recent wildfires in the Siberian settlement of Strelka, located on the bank of the Angara River in Krasnoyarsk region of Russia. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)

Temperatures in Arctic Siberia soared to a record average for June amid a heat wave that is stoking some of the worst wildfires the region has ever known, European Union data showed on Tuesday.

Global temperatures last month were on par with a 2019 record, and "exceptional warmth" was recorded over Arctic Siberia, the EU's earth observation program Copernicus said, part of a trend scientists are calling a "warning cry."

Average temperatures in the region were more than 5 C above normal and more than a degree higher than the two previous warmest Junes, in 2018 and 2019, the data showed.

The World Meteorological Organization is also seeking to confirm reports of a temperature reading of more than 38 C in Siberia, which would be the highest temperature recorded north of the Arctic Circle.

An aerial view shows the area affected by a recent fire in the Siberian town of Kansk in Krasnoyarsk region on May 27. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)

"The climate is changing faster in the Arctic and we are getting drier and warmer conditions which are ideal conditions for wildfires to burn," said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, referring to some of the worst wildfires in living memory that have intensified since June.

Emergency declared in 7 regions

The Russian forestry agency said that as of July 6, there were 246 forest fires covering 140,073 hectares and an emergency situation has been declared in seven regions. Russian state TV footage this week showed planes dumping water near huge columns of white smoke.

Copernicus says the fires have surpassed the record number of blazes seen in the region in the same month of last year.

In 2019, the worst year on record for regional fires, the Russian forest agency said wildfires ripped through around 15 million hectares with damage at more than 13 billion roubles ($246 million Cdn).

Wildfire carbon dioxide emissions from the region last month were an estimated 59 megatonnes, compared with 53 megatonnes last year, the EU said.

However, that may be even be an underestimate as the satellite data the Copernicus relies on is not thought to include all peat land, which tends to smolder, not burn.

Feedback loop as stored carbon released

Scientists say the wildfires are contributing to climate change via feedback loops: burning peatlands are releasing carbon stored there for millennia and leaving soot deposits on snow and ice, reducing their ability to reflect the sun's heat.

"The big link that people need to make — it's far away and it's sparsely populated but it still has a big impact on everybody," Guido Grosse, at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research said.

In total, last year, wildfires in the Arctic Circle produced more than 170 megatonnes of emissions, exceeding the 2018 annual emissions of many countries.

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