Almost a record temperatures earlier this week in USA has bought back wildfire that are slowly tearing across Alaska and western Canada! The drought hitting the West is not just striking the continental US but is also posing threat to top third of North America. Alaska and Canada have seen little rainfall, soaring spring temperatures, and now, a record-breaking wildfire season! Blackened trees and cross-continental plumes of smoke are on clear display of environmental damage. Although currently there are more than 300 fires raging, experts believe that the bigger concern may be what’s happening below ground.
A dry winter left little snow on the ground and record heat in May, with the state’s average temperature running 7.1°F above average, melted what little snow there was. Similarly warm conditions stretched across a large portion of western Canada in late May and set the stage for extreme wildfire conditions. Over the period of June 18-24, the Bureau of Land Management lightning network recorded more than 71,000 lightning strikes in Alaska, igniting a large swath of fires. Globally, soils contain more carbon than aboveground vegetation and the atmosphere combined. In warmer parts of the world, soil microorganisms chew through dead plants and animals very quickly, cycling their organic carbon back to the atmosphere as CO2. But in the boreal forests, peatlands and tundra that stretch across our planet’s high latitudes, long winters and short growing seasons slow microbial decomposition, allowing carbon-rich organic matter to accumulate. That’s why, even though boreal forests cover a slightly smaller area than tropical forests, and they sequester nearly three times as much carbon in their soils.
As explained by Climate Central, warming dries out forests and precipitation patterns change, the water table is dropping in once swampy areas. That makes peat susceptible to burning and when it does catch fire, centuries’ worth of carbon can burn up in the span of a few hours if fires are intense enough. Peat fires are also notoriously resilient, smoldering for days, weeks or even popping up again after a winter of smoldering beneath the surface.
Although enough CO2 is coming out of humankind into atmosphere, unfortunately this new conditions have created new source of CO2 into atmosphere with centuries-old carbon now going up in smoke!! With fears of bad wildfire seasons becoming new normal, it’s going to take a while for scientists to know exactly how much carbon this summer’s fires blew skyward. As of now, more than 3.1 million acres have burned in Alaska as of Tuesday, and thick smoke pushed the air quality index to “hazardous” in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. If the trend continues, Alaska will likely set a new record for total acres burned in a summer, passing the 6.6 million mark in 2004!!