Hazy skies over Vancouver Island caused by Siberian wildfires

Hazy skies over Vancouver Island caused by Siberian wildfires
NASA Worldview
Wildfire smoke from Siberia is seen over parts of Vancouver Island on Aug. 11

Wildfires burning in Russia are causing hazy skies over parts of Vancouver Island and Washington state.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, a jet stream is carrying smoke from the wildfires in Siberia up across the interior of Alaska and then blowing it southeast over the Gulf of Alaska and into B.C. and western Washington state.

The National Weather Service says the smoke should be moving out of the area by Thursday when the next high pressure comes through, changing the wind directions.

According to NASA Earth Observatory, warm temperatures have led to an intense fire season in eastern Siberia this summer, with satellite data showing that fires have been more abundant, more widespread, and produced more carbon emissions than recent seasons.

As of August 6, approximately 19 fires were burning in the province.

“After the Arctic fires in 2019, the activity in 2020 was not so surprising through June,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in a statement.

“What has been surprising is the rapid increase in the scale and intensity of the fires through July, largely driven by a large cluster of active fires in the northern Sakha Republic.”

NASA said estimates show that around half of the fires in Arctic Russia this year are burning through areas with peat soil—decomposed organic matter that is a large natural carbon source.

Warm temperatures (such as a record-breaking heatwave in June) can thaw and dry frozen peatlands, making them highly flammable. Peat fires can burn longer than forest fires and release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Parrington says that fires in Arctic Russia released more carbon dioxide (CO2) in June and July 2020 alone than in any complete fire season since 2003 (when data collection began).

“The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons,” said Dorothy Peteet of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in a statement.

“As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat.”

Peteet says fires in these regions are not just releasing recent surface peat carbon, but stores that have taken 15,000 years to accumulate. Methane is also being released.

“If fire seasons continue to increase in severity, and possibly in seasonal extent, more peatlands will burn,” said Peteet. “This source of more carbon dioxide and methane to our atmosphere increases the greenhouse gas problem for us, making the planet even warmer.”

So far this year, B.C. has recorded 383 wildfires. Twenty are active wildfires.

According to the National Weather Service, some of the wildfires in B.C. are leading to some smoke in Washington state.



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