Extreme fire activity continues in Yakutia, Russia

Forest fires burning on July 30 in Yakutia. (Andrey Sorokin/Government of the Sakha Republic)

High temperatures, lack of rainfall and drier-than-average soil are among the factors that may have contributed to the increasing number of large forest fires in the Northern Hemisphere this July, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) said on their website Friday. 

Siberia, especially the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), parts of Canada and the west coast of the United States are among the worst affected, the service said.

“I’ve been monitoring boreal forest fire activity for many years, but I’ve never seen such persistent high intensity fire on both sides of the Northern Hemisphere simultaneously,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

CAMS reports that fire activity in Yakutia since mid-June has been significantly higher than the 2003–2020 average.

Smoke impacts 

As of Friday, the regional government reported 150 wildfires were burning in Yakutia, with 2,138 people and 258 pieces of equipment mobilized to control the blazes. 

Yakutia temperatures higher than average

Temperatures in Yakutia have been higher than average since late spring, says the CCCS.

C3S data on global surface air temperature in April, May and June 2021, compared to the 1991–2020 average. Temperatures in the Sakha Republic were much higher than average in May and June. (Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Smoke from the Siberian fires have travelled across eastern Russia to the Pacific Ocean, but could also have impacts much further north, the service said.

“CAMS has also been tracking some smoke travelling in the direction of the Arctic Ocean, where it could settle on the sea ice, darkening its surface and speeding up melting.”

On Friday, the government of Yakutia also issued a smoke warning locally.

“At the slightest change in wind direction, the smoke will increase,” Sergey Sivtsev, the deputy minister of Ecology, Nature Management and Forestry, said in a news release. 

“Please observe the precautions and, if possible, do not leave the house.”

Excluding 2020, CAMS estimates that the amount of carbon emitted during Yakutia’s boreal fire season in June, July and August this year has already surpassed its fire seasons of any other year since 2003, when CAMS started their data set.

Write to Eilís at eilis.quinn@cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Arctic climate change among priorities of Canada’s new Governor General, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Tipping points: can a leaked report tip the scales to climate action? Blog by Irene Quaile

Norway: Polar bears face extinction in Svalbard and Arctic Russia says scientist, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Record breaking temperatures recorded in Arctic Russia, Eye on the Arctic

SwedenHeavier rainfall will increase risk of landslides and flooding in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough gets $2 million tribal energy grant, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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