GLOBAL – Within the past few years, we’ve been hearing a lot about wildfires occurring all around the world. In 2018, we saw California wildfires consuming an area of 1,893,913 acres, making it the most devastating wildfire-led damage ever in a fire season.
In Spain, the Canary Islands wildfire caused thousands to evacuate from the islands situated in Gran Canaria. Recently, the Amazon wildfires were in the headlines, where massive fires were burning up the world’s lungs.
Wildfires often occur at places that are close to the equator, as these areas receive the highest amount of warmth from the sun. However, recent Arctic wildfires are shaping a new trend altogether.
Wildfire and its causes
First of all, let us understand what this phenomenon is. A wildfire is an uncontrollable fire caused in the forest and wild area that can wipe out land stretches, vegetation and animal life.
Wildfires are also called forest fires. While the causes of wildfire can be many, they can be broadly categorized into two – manmade wildfires and natural causes.
So what is causing all these fires? Let’s have a look at some of the most common reasons behind the manmade wildfires.
Unattended campfires: Camping is a great outdoor activity, but we often forget about the standard procedures associated with leaving a camp.
In arid or dry conditions, campfires keep on burning till the entirety of the fuel burns out. Meanwhile, the embers from the fire can fall upon dry leaves or other easily ignitable materials, leading to a wildfire.
Burning wastes: Many still resort to burning wastes and trash in the open as a way to dispose of them. Again, such actions require careful monitoring of the flames.
Without proper supervision, the fires can spread to nearby areas by the action of the wind or combustion of adjacent dry materials.
Smoking: Smoking isn’t just injurious to health, but also the environment. Cigarette butts that are no properly put out and tossed into nature can ignite dry materials such as dry leaves, if they fall on them.
Smokers must dispose of cigarette butts in a responsible way where they ensure that they are put out completely before tossing them away.
Other human-made causes include fireworks, intentional harming of property, etc.
Naturally occurring wildfires only make up 10-15% of the total fires. They have such low numbers because it is very hard to generate fire without a series of carefully coordinated actions.
Some of the most common natural causes for wildfires are lightning, volcanic eruption and dry climates. Lightning that strikes trees creates sparks and heats the wood to its ignition point in the blink of an eye.
Lightning is the most notorious of all the natural causes of wildfires. However, naturally occurring wildfires are important to keep a balance in nature.
They act as disinfectants to kill harmful insects from the ecosystem and get rid of disease-ridden plants. Natural wildfires also make it possible for the sunlight to reach the forest floor by thinning the forest canopies. This further allows a new seedling to grow.
Arctic wildfires: the northern flames
Arctic wildfires are wildfires that occur in the arctic regions of the world. Places like Alaska, Greenland, as well as Canadian and Russian territories inside the Arctic Circle may seem safe against the wildfires because of their cold and humid nature, but we have been proven otherwise.
The northern part of the world is experiencing some of the harshest climatic changes over the last few years.
Wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere. But what is more alarming is the location, and intensity of these fires, as well as the length of time they have been burning lately.
During the summer of 2019 alone, Alaska reported more than 600 wildfires, affecting over 2.4 million acres of land. The current wildfire numbers are at an all-time high in over 10000 years!
Such a number is hard to ignore no matter how you dissect it.
Arctic wildfires are so common to an extent that the resultant smoke is picked up by satellites in space. These wildfires aren’t just destroying the flora and fauna of the Arctic region but are also damaging the soil quality and nutrients along with it.
Global warming and arctic wildfires: an undeniable connection
Climate change is the leading cause of wildfires in the Arctic.
Wildfire experts believe that the reason behind these unusual shifts is due to the increasing rate at which the Arctic temperatures are rising. A warmer condition allows fires to sustain for a longer duration once they get ignited.
Arctic fires are mostly caused by natural causes and they often occur it the heart of forests or vegetation, miles away from human settlements. Hence, they go unnoticed until they have burned through acres of land.
There has been a slow but prominent temperature rise felt all across the world. The snow caps are melting, and more land is being revealed which was once under the snow for years.
Heatwaves have also multiplied as a result of global warming. In July alone, 197 billion tons of ice melt was recorded due to a heatwave that spread from Europe to the Arctic country.
The Arctic has seen an increase of 1.5 degree Celsius after the pre-industrial era. Even if this number may seem to be low, the effects are catastrophic. The cumulative effects of global warming made July the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
Future prediction for Arctic wildfires also doesn’t return any good news, as many experts believe that they are going to get much more common and much more powerful over the coming years.
The effects of Arctic wildfires on Earth
NASA is currently studying how the Arctic wildfires will impact the world as a whole. In the Arctic region, the cold topsoil prevents the permafrost from decaying fast.
But, when the fire burns the topsoil, it opens up the permafrost and accelerates decomposition, increasing the amount of carbon released into the air.
Scientists estimate that the Arctic has 50% of the world’s soil carbon in the form of vast peat fields. When these peat soils are ignited, carbon dioxide releases into the atmosphere. This makes environmental conditions even warmer and drier.
If this happens, the Arctic wildfires will get even worse, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This vicious cycle will have a direct impact on the rise in global temperatures, eventually leading to global havoc.
The Arctic region must stay the Arctic for the world to keep its climatic balance. But in recent years, the damage to the earth has been unprecedented, and we haven’t taken enough countermeasures to reverse those effects.
With Arctic wildfires starting to become more common, it’s time to think about saving the earth, and think fast!