Huge fires in the Arctic and Siberia

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Huge fires in the Arctic and Siberia during Summer 2019, were seen by the Sentinel-3 and Metop satellites.

Date & Time
15 July–18 August
Satellites
Sentinel-3, Metop-C
Instruments
OLCI, GOME-2
Channels/Products
True Colour RGB, Aerosol Absorbing Index

By Federico Fierli (EUMETSAT)

Summer 2019, up to the end of July, was one of the hottest on record in the Arctic Circle, according to the Copernicus Climate Change service. In June and July there were more than 100 intense and long-lived wildfires in the Arctic Circle.

In late July wildfires raged for days in various regions of the Arctic and Siberia. These fires were unprecedented in duration, extent and emissions (see related content).

The huge, continent-wide fires, that have led to a worldwide emergency, can be attributed to continuous record-breaking summer temperatures in the Arctic regions, lightning activity, and strong winds causing them to spread.

The Sentinel-3 OLCI True Colour RGB images show the dynamics and the extent of the phenomenon. Figure 1 is a zoomed in image over northern Alaska on 27 July. The large fire is visible as a brown patch, while single fires are identified as single stripes, feeding the vast smoke layer.

Figure 1
 
Figure 1: Sentinel-3 OLCI True Colour RGB, 27 July 19:00 UTC. White space is the edge of the swath.
 

Vast fires were observed in Siberia the following day, 28 July (Figure 2), with an area of around three million hectares being affected by the fires.

Figure 2
 
Figure 2: Sentinel-3 OLCI True Colour RGB (zoomed in), 28 July 03:00 UTC
 

Wildfires were also responsible for the emission of toxic particles, pollutants, having an impact on health and the climate.

Atmospheric particulates, of which wildfires are a great contributor in the Arctic, play a key role in climate warming/cooling and ice melting (see Atmospheric Aerosol in the Changing Arctic).

The Copernicus CAMS service estimates that such events produce about 50 Mtons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The fire in the Arctic Circle in June alone, released around 50 megatonnes of CO2 — equivalent to Sweden’s total annual emissions.

Addendum

The fires in Siberia were still burning in early August, with the smoke travelling as far as the North Pole. Using imagery from the Sentinel-3 satellite it was possible to see the extent of the smoke plumes and check how it corresponded to other types of climate monitoring observations.

Figure 3 shows the OLCI RGB from 10 August at 03:44 UTC, compared with Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) fire intensity product and carbon monoxide analysis.

On the satellite image there is a huge C-shaped plume extending across the continent and north up to the Arctic Sea. The fire intensity product for the same day shows a very active area, in fact the most intense worldwide, north of Mongolia. The carbon monoxide analysis shows the presence of huge plume of pollutants produced by the fires, extending up to the North Pole, with a similar shape and structure to one observed by Sentinel-3.

Figure 3
 
Figure 3: Sentinel-3 OLCI True Colour RGB, 10 August 03:44 UTC, compared with the CAMS fire intensity and carbon monoxide analysis products
 

The observations of atmospheric particulate from GOME-2 instrument on board Metop-C, from 15 July to 18 August (Figure 4), shows the evolution of the smoke plume emitted by fires in the Arctic during the unusually intense wildfires season of this summer. The plumes originate from the region of the fire and then travelled for days, reaching the North Pole around 8 August.


Figure 4:Metop-C GOME-2 Absorbing Aerosol Index animation, 15 July–18 August

It is important to see the intensity and persistence of the phenomenon comparable to other dominant events of production and transport of different types of particulate (e.g. the Saharan dust source and the wildfires over Central Africa).

The global impact of fires are increasingly dramatic, due to their unprecedented extent and duration. Several millions of hectares have been burned and, according to CAMS, the amount of pollutants and greenhouse gases released compares to yearly amounts produced by a medium-sized country.

 
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