Firefighters from both countries, as well as British Columbia in Canada, are waging an almost impossible battle to suffocate the hells with water pumps and hoses and prevent their spread by digging firewalls.
The smoke from the Yukutia republic in Siberia was so thick on Tuesday that reconnaissance pilot Svyatoslav Kolesov was unable to do his job. There was no way he could fly his plane with such low visibility.
Kolesov is a pilot of aerial observation posts at the eastern end of the Yakutia region. This part of Siberia is prone to forest fires, with large parts of the region covered with forests. But Kolesov told CNN the flames are different this year.
“New fires have appeared in northern Yakutia, in places where last year there were no fires and before that nothing had been burned,” he said.
Kolesov is seeing first-hand what scientists have been warning for years. Forest fires are getting bigger and more intense and are also occurring in places they are not used to.
“The fire season is getting longer, the fires are getting bigger, burning more intensely than ever,” said Thomas Smith, assistant professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics.
Yakutia forest fires have consumed more than 6.5 million acres since the beginning of the year, according to figures released by the country’s Forest Air Protection Service. There are almost 5 million football fields.
The Canadian province of British Columbia declared an emergency due to forest fires on Wednesday. About 300 active fires have been registered in the province.
Forest fires are part of a vicious climate cycle. Climate change not only causes fires, but its burning releases even more carbon into the atmosphere, making the crisis worse.
Some scientists say this year’s fires are especially bad.
“As early as mid-July, total estimated emissions are higher than the total amount of previous years during the summer periods, so this shows that this is a very persistent problem,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at the Service. of Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring.
He said Yakutia has been experiencing high-intensity fires continuously since the last days of June.
“If I look at the time series, we see kind of equivalent levels of intensity, but not for three weeks, you know, I think the longest previous one was maybe a couple of weeks or 10 days or something like that, all the more isolated “he said, adding that the fire season usually lasts until mid-August, so fires are likely to continue.
More frequent and more intense
Smith said that while parts of Siberia and Canada have always experienced wildfires, the concern is that fires are now more frequent.
“Once upon a time there was a fire every 100 or 150 years in one place, which means the forest regenerates completely and you end up with a mature forest, and then the fire comes and then you start again,” he said. .
“What we’re seeing in some parts of Eastern Siberia is that fires are happening every 10 to 30 years now, in some places, and what that means is that the forest won’t be able to mature, and it will end with a [ecosystem] change to a kind of bushy land or swampy meadow “.
Heat waves and droughts also make new areas vulnerable to fires.
“In the Siberian Arctic, we are concerned about the tundra ecosystem north of the forest, which would normally be too wet or frozen to burn,” Smith said. “In the last two years we’ve seen a lot of fires in this ecosystem, which suggests that things are changing there.”
This also has a serious long-term effect on the climate. The ashes of fires could also accelerate global warming by darkening surfaces that would normally be lighter and reflect more solar radiation.
Areas affected by these fires also include peat bogs, which are some of the most effective carbon sinks on the planet, Parrington said.
“If they’re burning, it will release carbon,” Parrington said. “It eliminates a carbon storage system that has been around for thousands of years and therefore can have an impact.”
CNN’s Zarah Ullah, Anna Chernova and Darya Tarasova in Moscow contributed to this report.
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