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Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

By 0 and 0 and 0
23 July 2016


Wildfires in Yakutia. Picture: Prima Media

These exceptional images show how the smoke trails of wildfires over Siberia can be seen from outer space. The pictures were made by the EPIC camera on NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft some 975,074 miles - or 1,569,229 kilometres from Earth on 21 July this year.

Hovering between the Earth and the Sun, the evidence on such images suggest that the smoke cover is extensive, yet Greenpeace accuses the Russian authorities of massively under reporting the scale of the annual wildfires. 

Other satellite images confirm the extent of the fires, for example the Suomi NPP spacecraft, orbiting 512 miles (824 km) above Earth. 

Experts claim that such images show fires are 10 times more widespread than acknowledged by the Russian government. 

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Smoke from wildfires in Siberia seen from million miles away. Pictures: EPIC camera, NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory

Currently, as we outline below, there are worrying reports of the tundra burning in the Arctic Yamal Peninsula, as well as other damaging fires, for example a 3,000 hectare blaze at the  Lena Pillars Nature Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - which was finally extinguished in recent days in Yakutia, also known as Sakha Republic. 

Ecologists say the fires pose a direct threat to the role of Siberian pristine Boreal forests in  absorbing climate-warming emissions.

And as the weather turns drier and warmer, the forests become more prone to wildfires. Annually the Russian forests absorb a net 500 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, equivalent to the emissions put off over a year by 534 coal-burning power plants.

Yet 'forest fire danger and carbon emissions will double or triple by the end of the century', expert  Anatoly Shvidenko, who served on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), told AFP.

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Wildfires in Yamal Peninsula which is mostly above the Polar circle. Picture: Russian Ministry of Natural Resources

The thinning of the forests is most acute in northern Siberia where fires can ravage plant life and shallow roots, making it impossible for trees to regrow for centuries - a process known as 'green desertification'.

'Already seven million hectares have burned, that's more than average,' said Grigory Kuksin, in charge of  the wildfire prevention programme at Greenpeace Russia.

'Everywhere it's the same scenario, where a small fire is ignored and then goes out of control.'

This is exactly the case in the recent fire at the  Lena Pillars Nature Park, said local experts. There were claims that the late discovery of hot spots in the area, a significant tourist location, allowed the wildfires to take hold, destroying pristine forest. 

Some 133 people were involved in fighting this outbreak of wildfire, including paratroopers, local volunteer firefighters, and employees of chemical firefighting stations.

The fires here started on 28 June and were finally put out on 21 July. 

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Wildfires in Yamal. Pictures: Vesti Yamal 

Yakutia has witnessed 109 wildfires covering 8,000 hectares so far this year. As Kuksin claimed, drier and hotter summers have extended the fire season in Russia, but 99 percent of wildfires are still caused by humans and the government should do more to prevent them.

'If they start reacting on time to small fires, everything will be okay,' he claimed.

Concern is also growing about other regions in Siberia and the Russian Far East where large summer wildfires are an annual threat to nature and wildlife. 

In Yamal, a state of emergency has been declared because of the large wildfires, with some 8,000 hectares of forest and tundra destroyed. Hot, dry weather in the Arctic means that during a 24 hour period some 1,000 hectares of tundra has been destroyed. 

Boris Volovod, an emergencies official in Tazovsky district, said: 'There is no threat to people and settlements (but the) situation is complicated. It is related to the latest weather conditions.'

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Abnomally hot summer led to wildfires on Yamal peninsula. Picture: Vesti Yamal

Abnormally high temperatures for this Arctic area - described as 'unbearable heat' - has been going on for six weeks. Forest and tundra has dried out and up to 10 new wildfires start every day. For example, over the past 24 hours over 1,000 hectares of forest tundra was affected by wildfires. 

Wildfires have also forced Yamal's nomadic population to choose alternative, safe routes to pasture their deer: they stick to water as close as possible. Over 600 people are involved in firefighting. Up to 16 aircraft are involved with local chiefs calling for federal assistance with rescuers from three other regions arriving to counter the burning tundra.

Local official Yulia Chebotaryova said: 'An Il-76 (aircraft) will be involved to extinguish wildfires in Nadymsky district. It can carry up to 42 tons of water at a time.'

Alexey Yaroshenko, head of forest department of Greenpeace Russia, said: 'In the next few days the situation in burning areas of Krasnoyarsk region will get considerably worse. The area of active wildfires is growing quickly and covers a larger territory.'

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Wildfires in Yamal. Picture: Vesti Yamal

Smoke from Krasnoyarsk fires has spread to a dozen other regions, it has been reported. Locals complain about the strange smell of smoke, possibly caused by a mixing with industrial emissions in some areas. 

A so-called 'Black Sky' regime - when industrial emissions are limited - was declared this week. 

Alexander Bruykhanov, senior researcher at the Forestry Institute in Krasnoyarsk, said: 'Wildfires in Evenkiysky District will not get extinguished until it starts raining extensively across the region. This area of country is burning quite regularly just like, for example, Yakutia. 

'Large wildfires have been happening here every 10 to 30 years and in the last decades every 5-10 years because of increased anthropological pressure and global climate change. Of course it is possible to deploy all the reserves of Avialesokhrana ('aviation forest protection' service) and people from all the regional wildfire centres but it won't change the situation. The Emergencies Miinistry won't be able to help here but will only cause some extra work for foresters who will have to rescue rescuers.'

He warned: 'Having quote limited firefighting resources, it is necessary to focus on fighting fire in areas where people live and, most importantly, put more effort in prevention.' 

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning

Siberia's wildfires seen from 1 million miles away: even the tundra is burning
Black skies over Krasnoyarsk; air pollution was so strong that one man had to run a maraphon in a gas mask. Pictures: social networks 

In Kamchatka, Greenpeace's Alexey Yaroshenko warned: 'Large forest tundra wildfires which haven't made it onto official reports continue to be active close to the villages of Ayanka and Slautnoye.'

The had been burning for more than one month, he said. 'Wildfires are burning both in the tundra and forests.'

As of the first half of 21 July local time, wildfires got as close as four kilometres to the village of Ayanka, and eight kilometres to the village of Slautnoye.

'Smoke covers the villages because of wind. The total area of forest and tundra fire in Kamchatka region is 172,000 hectares according to Greenpeace and 121,000 hectares according to Rosleskhoz.'

* NOAA is the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Comments (15)

@ Eric - Exactly right. It is not the planet which is in trouble, it adapts and changes constantly through time. It is us - humans - who are in trouble. We are are fast making the Earth unviable for our own species, a process which must inevitably lead to our species' extinction. We are a ridiculously stupid and destructive species: not even pigs shit in their own nest if they can avoid it. Sadly, we'll take a lot of fauna and flora species along with us.
@ Neil - BTW, even though the Australian govt is truly disgusting, not all Australians deserve to be burnt.
Felicity Aldrich, Australia
18/09/2016 13:47
Yes, nature rebounds but it always takes things and species with her as she does. One of the species this time will be us, thank god. Hopefully the species that survive will respect and nurture what's left.
Erik Bosma, Mission, BC, Canada
09/09/2016 09:17
The destruction of forests, engineering of underground, underwater redoubts, while preparing for geoengineering policies for the oceans, is occurring apace covertly while experts use hundred year timelines that are inappropriate by a magnitude of two for social planning.

This explains the Russian reticence because rational transparent cooperative solutions aren't possible with so much invested in the Cold War response after the world war that never really ended in 1945.

It also explains to a marginal degree the MAD new nuclear deterrent: the doomsday torpedoes that poison harbors. Pierces the aquatic fantasies of the East Hampton and Martha's Vineyard and Silicon Valley Malthusian neofeudalists, which in turn explains why they've circled the wagons around their summer homes and pseudointelligencia to decry the dreaded Putin.
Ralph Reed, Hampshire, US
06/08/2016 22:08
Yup, we're going down. Some fire's natural. Tundra on fire, probably not so natural. We have 100 percent done this to ourselves. No one else to blame. No smarter than a box of rabbits that eats and breeds itself out of a place to live. Some global warming is natural, some variation is normal. We've been fortunate enough to have had the long warm stable period we've recently had, but nobody ever said that it was guaranteed to stay that way. Shift and change and variation is the way of the earth, and we're just along for the ride. Too bad we've taken its normal temp fluctuation and amplified it to where it's now almost out of control.
Julie Keeney, Fresno, Ca., USA
30/07/2016 13:24
The birch trees in Alaska are all dung too. If we have a fir here they will be dry tinder in just a few years. The entire planetary ecosystem is collapsing ( quote from chief scientist at nasa Langley research center, Dr Bushnell). This is not any sort of normal event. It's totally man made. We will have very very rough times ahead,mane the quicker we get all of humanity to understand the dire state our planet is in, the better.
Debi Daniels, Palmer, AK, USA
30/07/2016 11:23
Neo consumers have eaten us all out of house & home.
Colin Hitler, Royston Vasey
29/07/2016 21:26
Reading the comment section makes me despair for the species.

I suggest we eat the Americans and Burn the Australians to reduce global warming.
Neil Anderson, Scotland
29/07/2016 20:06
Fires in Canada, floods in Europe. Fires in Siberia, floods in China. Aerosols and rains are dependent.
But the “climato-negationists” will probably pretend that has nothing to do with the gobal warming
Christian Roussel, Angoulême/France
26/07/2016 04:39
Nature always rebounds... except when it doesn’t because it is so badly degrade by human abuse; Anthropogenic Climate Collapse is not natural
William Maxwell, Australia
25/07/2016 17:31
And today/tonight (Sunday/Monday, California burns down because of so much drought & dry ground for the past couple of years. This is the way Siberia is going, loads of fires breaking out year by year in its precious forests. Trees, our most important asset worldwide are now either burned down or being illegally chopped down, depending what part of the planet you live in.

The more trees that disappear the more hotter it will get year on year & the more we will be choked & poisoned by methane & well as other pollutants. And then the weather will get screwed up even more and blow hot & cold at the wrong times that soon the ice caps will melt & we'll be drowned while we are fanning out the flames. Seems the trees will soon be talking to us humans to tell us how really stupid we were/are not to have looked after them more. Because we'll probably never be able to cop on to that for ourselves.

Time guys, is running out before we're scorched/rained/drowned out & Nature knows it. "Cop on"!.
Jaker, Dundalk
25/07/2016 10:21
We are crying, seems Russian Sibirya is burning but actually our world is burning, there is only way to stop this fire, invite 100 shamans from Mongolia, Buryat, Tuva, Khalimak to ode to heaven and ask RAIN!!!! serious...
Amaraa , Ulaanbaatar
24/07/2016 20:56
Greenpeace, you have it wrong many natural burns have we had around the world in the past 100 years?? Many, many...they all benefit.
Ozzie Finley, USA
24/07/2016 11:21
The temperate boreal forests of the northern hemisphere are converting to savanna land.
There is no way they can survive the current rate of global warming.
That is to say many of the regions burnt will NOT grow back.
The tundra fires are especially bad as they are releasing carbon that has been stored in the permafrost for thousands of years.
Leslie Graham,
24/07/2016 11:19
Stunning ignorance Barbara.
There is absolutely nothing 'natural' about man-made climate change of which the huge global increase in the incidence and intensity of wildfires and the lengthening of the fire season is a part.
You clearly have no idea what your are talking about and are merely spewing knee-jerk reactionary garbage about a topic you don't understand.
Leslie Graham, Aurstralia
24/07/2016 11:17
Take a chill pill Greenpeace. Fires are natural. Nature rebounds.
Barbara, Phoenix
24/07/2016 06:12

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