Arctic climate amplification and Siberia’s burning forests

Usually Arctic amplification is referred to as the reason why the Arctic is warming faster than the earth’s average, as the Arctic’s surface gets darker (due to less sea ice and snow), and the surface absorbs more heat.
What we see currently in Siberia with the burning forests sheds yet another light on how this affects people’s life in the region concretely. Right now in Yakutsk, usually the world’s coldest big city, you can hardly breathe through the smog from the burning forests in Siberia.

In Yakutsk the afternoon sun hardly cuts through the smog, foto 16/07/2021

This seems to be having really bad health consequences for local people. Last night I couldn’t sleep because dry cough kicking in, and the usual option of ‘going out to get some fresh air’ doesn’t work: outside the air is still worse than in any room, as the entire region is full of smoke.
Friends told me last night that they hardly saw any sun for the last three weeks, even when there were no clouds. And in cloudy weather, some of the rain didn’t make it all the way to the ground through the thick smog. So I started reading the local news and was shocked: as of yesterday in the city the heavy particle concentration exceeded the legal maximum 8 times, and so did the nitrogen dioxide concentration. Therefore the authorities recommend not to go out, not do physical exercise, and wear masks with particle filters – good that people got used to wearing masks for the last 1.5 years anyway:( . But what on earth can all our friends do who live in the forests herding their reindeer, horses, cattle in the area? They don’t have houses where they can isolate themselves with air condition behind windows from this ‘fresh’ air. They’ve got to breathe it 24/7. And they will hardly wear masks in their nomadic tents…
One commentary to that news said that recently they measured exceeded limits by 36 times and he wondered how the air got so much cleaner that it’s now ‘only’ 8 times? They must have adjusted the legal limits to make it look less severe, he argues.

One could say ‘yes, forests and land is burning all over the place: last year Australia, every year US, so what’s special about Siberia’s burning land?
I am not an expert, and surely the colleagues from the Yakutsk permafrost institute could say more – but I think the difference to forests in non-Arctic forests is this: here the plants, forests, tundra grow on permafrost ground. Long-term fires heat up that ground even further than usual. Thus, the permafrost thaws even deeper, the active layer gets even bigger. This might amplify the unearthing of all kinds of ingredients, for better or worse: mammoth tusks, anthrax bacteria, methane, and all sorts of stuff. So the forest fires’ impact on the permafrost might be another dimension of the Arctic amplification, with consequences for the entire planet. Maybe the American and Australian forest fires were also pretty bad for the entire planet, but it seems in Siberia that impact on the permafrost is another addition.
Ironically, Yakutia is the world’s only place (as far as I know) where the authorities have passed a law on the protection of the permafrost (22.05.2018 2006-З № 1571-V) . As beautiful as it sounds – what does this help if the forest fires cannot be fought effectively locally? In the local news commentaries, the authorities have been criticized heavily for their disaster response

As of the 17 July noon there are still 134 fires burning in Yakutia. . I have been mostly in the city so far, and even there local people have to pay the local toll for this ecological disaster. Even more so people in villages and in the forest, who depend on the treasures of the land for their traditional livelihood.

5 thoughts on “Arctic climate amplification and Siberia’s burning forests

  1. Ayonghe Akonwi

    Interesting analysis on the status quo of “arctic amplification” and the example of Siberia. Is this a temperal phenomenon? Or rather, a longterm issue? Are these forest fires a major outcome of human activity or induced naturally by cause of changes in weather conditions? Or both? Quite an unfortunate situation for the locals. An even more challenging scenario will be if the daily temperatures (above average) on the permafrost remain high on a continuous 24hr basis, day and night. Not an expert on this, but one will hope for a much colder winter to get the temperatures down and maybe impact on the fires in some way …

  2. fstammle

    The new IPCC report released today suggests that this is not going to be temporal, but increasing with the warming climate on our planet. The amplification is even more, I was told, because when the forest was there, it sort of filtered the direct sunlight off the ground and prevented the ground proper from warming excessively. Now with the forest burnt, it’s just bare ground, and dark ground, which means the sun is going to have an even more warming effect on the ground. So it’s amplified from all sides.
    Yesterday the Deutsche Welle reported that in Yakutia 3.5 Million !!! hectares of forest are burning. https://www.dw.com/ru/v-jakutii-gorit-uzhe-pochti-35-mln-gektarov-lesa/a-58810767
    And that the smoke of these forest fires has reached the North Pole, according to sources from Nasa! It’s hard to imagine the scale for us. 3.5 M hectares, that’s more than a third of all Finnish Lapland, for those who know this part of the world.
    In comparison unfortunately the surface burnt in Greece is just peanuts: 263 000 hectares (according to Al Jazeera https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/9/our-village-is-dead-the-devastating-toll-of-greeces-wildfires).

  3. fstammle

    Today Yakutia24 news says that river traffic is banned on the Lena, and Yakutsk airport is closed, visibility is close to 0. A friend told on the phone last night it feels like apocalyptic there. The fire burnt the forests in Namski Ulus, where the Yakutian cattle and their herders live, with whom some of us worked in our previous ArcArk project on Arctic pastoral animals. Our thoughts are with our horse herding friends in Namski too. No info yet how their livestock are affected, let alone people’s lungs. Currently still more than 170 fires burning in Yakutia, on more than 4 M hectares. What a nightmare! Vladislav, our horse herding partner says “the fires are also partly due to the fact that it’s forbidden by law to slash and burn during spring time. So all the old dry grass and shrubs remain. They catch fire much easier in a dry summer like this”.So a well-meant law facilitated this disaster?

  4. Pingback: Arctic climate amplification and Siberia’s burning forests – Polar Red Climate Crisis

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