Under the choking black smoke from the bog and forest fires in Siberia and Alaska, it can feel like the Earth itself is burning. The normally moist, black organic peat soil and lush forests have been drying, and when they catch fire, they burn relentlessly.
Global warming has been thawing tundra and drying vast stretches of the far-northern boreal forests, and it also has spurred more thunderstorms with lightning, which triggered many of the fires burning in Alaska this year, said Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist with the International Arctic Research Center who closely tracks Alaskan and Arctic extreme weather.
So far this year, wildfires have scorched more than 1.2 million acres in Alaska, making it one of the state’s three biggest fire years on record to this date, with high fire danger expected to persist in the weeks ahead.
Several studies, as well as ongoing satellite monitoring, show that fires are spreading farther north into the Arctic, burning more intensely and starting earlier in the year, in line with what climate models have long suggested would happen as sea ice dwindles and ocean and air temperatures rise.