RUSSIA – Russia is suffering from a spate of Arctic wildfires, with monitoring by two Nasa satellites this year recording 10,057 hotspots in Russia’s Arctic territory up to the start of August.
According to data provided to The Daily Telegraph, 10 times more fires have been spotted there than in the same period a decade ago and the highest number since satellites recorded their first full year of images in 2003.
Marina Kanishcheva, director of the global fire project at Greenpeace Russia, said: “Climate change has resulted in fires starting where it was too cold or wet for them before, where there weren’t people before but where now there are.”
While wildfires contribute a quarter of global CO2 emissions, the specific threat from fires above the Arctic Circle is soot, or “black carbon”, which often lands on the polar ice pack, accelerating its melting.
Russian authorities do not extinguish many of the northern fires located in the euphemistically named “control zones” far from human settlements, mainly because of the expense.
“Our system of protecting forests from fires is catastrophically under-financed,” Kanishcheva said. “There is money for football but not for wildfires.”
Wildfires were once almost unheard of in the Arctic, which is covered by soggy tundra interspersed with a few boreal forests. For the most part, nothing more than moss, grass and a few shrubs can grow in the tundra because of the short summer and permafrost.
There was once little in the way of fuel and sparks to start fires, but that is changing as the climate warms and humans exploit the increasingly accessible remoter natural resources.
Last month, an intense heatwave sparked wildfires across northern Europe, including at least 11 in the Arctic. More than 60 raged across Sweden, and several struck moorland near Manchester, England.
Scientists have warned that fires are becoming more common in the wet areas across Northern Europe and once started they could release huge amounts of carbon stored in peat.